Conservative Coalition-Building

Rod Dreher, in commenting on the David Brooks piece on the future of conservatism in yesterday’s New York Times, writes this:

Let me make a point that’s going to be overlooked among secular conservatives of Reformist impulse: no conservative movement that hopes to be successful can do so without religious conservatives. It will be very easy for secular Reform conservatives to sell op-ed pieces to newspapers, in which they argue that the GOP will not be revived until and unless it cuts itself free from the Religious Right. It’ll be easy for them to sell that point because it suits the prejudices of the kind of secular liberals who run the media. But it’s quite wrong.

While it is always possible to imagine some arbitrary configuration of 51% of voters who have the label “conservative”, Rod’s point strikes me as correct as a practical matter. Further, more important than the question of electoral advantage, is the fact that tens of millions of citizens have deeply held beliefs that should be considered in making and enforcing the law.

I also believe it to be true that a political movement that proposes to impose what is traditionally considered to be a socially conservative agenda (e.g., a near-absolute restriction on abortion, preventing gay marriage, and so forth) on the entire population of the United States any time soon through force of federal law faces a pretty bleak future.

Both sides of these debates, I believe, have to recognize that many people who share the same country disagree in good faith, and are unlikely to be persuaded within our lifetimes. As I have argued at length, I think that the only workable compromise is not to try to force the creation of uniform national law when no national consensus on the morality of these issues exists. Instead, I believe that we should have an agenda of devolving as many of these social issues, as a matter of law, to as local a level as possible.

Politics, properly considered, has limited aims. Attempts to use it to create heaven on earth, whether motivated by secular or religious thinking, usually backfire. Fortunately, most practical people realize this. We should be looking to build political bridges across moral divides by lowering the temperature of such debates, and keeping our expectations of what politics can accomplish appropriately humble.