In surveying the current political landscape, one can’t help but perceive a decline in social conservatism. Over the past 30 years, its supporters have effectively lost the culture wars and are now being pushed from the public square. Examples include Brandon Eich, who was chased from his job at Mozilla for his views against same-sex marriage, to pro-life clubs being marginalized at many Canadian universities. Gone is the tolerance to live and let live; instead, tolerance now means “accept and embrace, or else…”
How can social conservatives survive their decline into this new reality and live to fight another day?
Social conservatives tend to play defence. They try to apply society’s brakes, slowing the march of progress. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does lead to negative perceptions.
Pick any major issue that social conservatives have engaged with and chances are their position could be summarized with just one word: no. Whether it’s abortion, same-sex marriage, drug legalization, or prostitution, social conservatives are seen as the old cranks who just say no. This makes the job easier for progressives, who can present themselves as enlightened even without a convincing argument.
Social conservatives need to shift tactics by getting ahead of the issues and championing means to address them. On abortion, rather than simply advocating recriminalization, why not start campaigning to improve adoption services and other alternatives? Why not campaign for better palliative care than simply arguing that euthanasia or assisted suicide is wrong and dangerous? Progressives don’t have a monopoly on solutions for social problems; conservatives simply need to better articulate their alternatives. It is not difficult to do: the abolition of the federal long gun registry is a perfect example. Conservatives got in front of the issue and made a strong case against the registry, making the repeal of it politically achievable.
While it’s easier to sit back and lament society’s moral decay, it would be better for conservatives to clearly define their positions and champion alternatives. If we simply sit back and say no, we’ll continue to lose the hearts, minds, and arguments.