Conservatives, Stop Defending Yourselves

Last Friday, I argued that it would be ill-advised for the GOP to jettison social conservatism. Mind you, I wasn’t arguing that social conservatism is the whole of conservatism, just that it is, I think, the key to everything else. Fix the family, and you’ll go a long way toward defeating progressivism more generally.

So, given that the GOP is going to keep pushing a socially-conservative agenda, we need to answer the question, “How can we better present an argument for traditional values and pro-family policies?” I’m no expert on such things, but the impression I get is that social conservatism has basically been on the defensive for…well, a long time now. Maybe we should try something different. How about this: Instead of fighting a defensive battle over issues like the definition of marriage, it’s time for social conservatives to go on the offensive.

Let’s take the recent French “revolt” against the proposed redefinition of marriage as an example. At Public Discourse, Robert Oscar Lopez wrote this:

It is time for Americans to follow France’s lead. [The organizers of the opposition to same-sex marriage] have presented us with a game changer. They have given us the necessary rhetoric and republican logic to present a strong case against redefining marriage. They have provided us a playbook for mobilizing across party lines. They’ve presented colorful characters whom we can emulate. [Hopefully,] American defenders of the family will be inspired to do as the “march for all” movement has done.

As an example of such “necessary rhetoric,” Lopez cites the slogan of SSM opponents (“the rights of children trump the right to children”) as “a pithy but forceful philosophical claim.” That’s what we need, something “pithy but forceful.” The fact is, most people don’t seem to think much past rhetoric on issues like this (witness the oft-successful progressive rhetoric about conservative “bigotry,” marriage “equality,” and the “war on women”); therefore, if we’re going to win the debate, we need to “out-rhetorize” our opponents.

How can we do that? Here’s one idea: Last week, I criticized one of Rod Dreher’s articles in which he argued that social conservatives should recognize that progressives have pretty much won the battle over redefining marriage. To be fair, Dreher made a good point, though, when he wrote:

…at the political level, social conservatives are going to have to start thinking and talking about gay marriage in a libertarian way. As a general matter, the way you succeed in American politics is by framing issues in terms of expanding liberty.

I think he’s dead on. Granted, he’s making this argument in a different context than I am, but it’s still something to consider. So, why not shift our argument to something like this: “The attempt to redefine marriage is an assault on liberty of expression–religious liberty in particular.” If there are any serious skeptics, maybe toss out the firing of Gallaudet University’s chief diversity officer Angela McCaskill for having simply signed a petition deemed unacceptable by the PC police. Ms. McCaskill has been reinstated, but this is still a good example of what we’re talking about when we draw the link between redefining marriage and the consequent loss of liberty of expression. Or, you can just cite the recent pillorying of pastor Louis Giglio. In short, call progressives to account for things like this; rather than having to justify ourselves to them, force them into the position of having to justify themselves to us.

On a related note, maybe it’d be a good idea to borrow Newt Gingrich’s proposals to put an end to judicial activism. As noted by the Heritage Foundation’s Dominique Ludvigson:

The issue [of how to define marriage] has been forced onto the [Supreme] Court’s docket by activist judges who have overruled democratically established marriage policies and by executive branch officials who have abandoned their duty to faithfully execute duly enacted laws.

What should our response be? How about hauling judges that make egregiously unconstitutional rulings before Congress for inquiries? How about impeachment of judges who blatantly ignore the Constitution–or who use it as nothing but a cover–in their effort to force a particular brand of egalitarianism onto our society? This progressive assault via the judiciary is all-out; so should the conservative response be.

(Just a brief note on the constitutionality of Gingrich’s proposals: The popular understanding of the doctrine of “checks and balances” is that the three branches of the federal government are “independent and co-equal.” Actually, that’s not the case. If Willmoore Kendall’s argument in The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition is correct–and I think it is–the truth is that the legislature has a bit more power than the other two branches, and may assert that power in a “constitutional crisis.” That’s all I’ll say for now, since I don’t want to get side-tracked. In the meantime, I’d recommend reading up on Kendall. It’ll be worth the effort, believe me.)

So, conservatives, it’s time to take the offensive. We need to re-shape the narrative, presenting our ideas as the best hope for liberty and making progressives play the role of defendant. We need to hold our judiciary accountable, rather than allowing them to run roughshod over everything we believe. These aren’t new ideas, it is true, and this has already been done in some places. But the key is to make a more concerted, more systematic effort.

And the time to do that is right now.