The big topic of discussion this week is the role conservatism played in the wins in Virginia, New Jersey, and elsewhere, as well as in the loss of New York’s 23rd congressional district. Recent polls show that many more Americans self-identify as conservative than liberal, so it should not be terribly surprising that so many conservative candidates won Tuesday. It should not even be terribly surprising that some won big.
Though if that is the case, what is the explanation for Doug Hoffman’s loss in New York? There are many possible reasons — including the spectacle that the race turned into with Dede Scozzafava dropping out at the last minute and endorsing the Democrat — but one possibility proposed by Roger L. Simon and others is sure to be much discussed over the coming year.
Simon wrote that social conservatism was in part to blame:
America is a fiscally conservative country — now perhaps more than ever, and with much justification — but not a socially conservative one. No, I don’t mean to say it’s socially liberal. It’s not. It’s socially laissez-faire (just as its mostly fiscally laissez-faire). Whether we’re pro-choice, pro-life or whatever we are, most of us want the government out of our bedrooms, just as we want it out of our wallets.
I don’t believe the fact that Hoffman is a social conservative was the reason for his loss, but when it comes to priorities, Simon makes a point worth considering:
Hoffman’s capital “C” Conservative campaign tried to separate itself from the majority parties by making a big deal of the social issues. He was all upset that Scozzafava was pro-gay marriage, seemingly as upset as he was with her support for the stimulus plan.
The majority of Americans are conservative — not just on matters of fiscal policy, but also on many social issues. After all, in the last presidential campaign Barack Obama himself said he was against gay marriage. And increasingly — in part due to advances in ultrasound technology — Americans are moving farther from the pro-choice position, especially when late-term abortions are the issue. Earlier this year, Gallup found a majority of U.S. adults identifying themselves as pro-life for the first time since they began asking the question in 1995.
The problem was not that the positions held by Hoffman were too extreme or too socially conservative. However, there may have been a problem with the emphasis put on those issues.
Unemployment has reached levels not seen in decades in some states. People are hurting and want someone to do something to address the problem quickly and forcefully. The stimulus bill is not working. As a result, even many of those who voted for Obama and supported him in the past see the need for a different approach. The majority of Americans now believe the country is on the wrong track.
Putting more attention on social issues rather than on jobs, taxes, spending, and growing government control over the private sector is something voters in the current economy are not likely to view positively. Obama and the Democrats in Congress have moved swiftly to dismantle the free enterprise system when it comes to health care, banking, and even cars, and the consequences of their policies have already proved disastrous. A swift response is needed, and that is what most voters have foremost on their minds.
The conservatives that won this week did not do so by abandoning their conservative values, social or otherwise, but they did make the issues of jobs and spending their top priorities. Looking forward to the 2010 midterm elections, conservatives can be confident in the knowledge that conservatism is a winning platform for electoral success — even in blue states like New Jersey.
As long as conservative candidates listen to what the voters are saying and respond to the concerns most important to them with common sense conservative solutions, the successes seen this week in Virginia and New Jersey will be repeated around the country in November 2010.