Neal Boortz, subbing for Sean Hannity on his radio show on the day after Christmas, took the opportunity to unload a heap of libertarian wrath upon social conservatives, saying that Republicans will not win another election if they continue “screaming and yelling about abortion, about gay rights, about prayer in school.” Boortz spat the words “social conservative Republicans” into the airwaves as he railed against (some unnamed) Republicans who, apparently “obsessed” with social issues, are running around the country raging against the forces trying to take prayer out of school. Boortz seemed particularly upset with Republicans who want to peer into everyone’s bedrooms to find out who is sleeping with whom.
During the three-hour show, Boortz dragged out nearly every straw man that the left uses to waylay Republicans in elections, using a few isolated cases as the exemplars of social conservatism in the GOP.
Perhaps Boortz has missed this development, but Rick Santorum is no longer the face of the Republican Party and he’s not even the face of social conservatism. For that matter, even during the course of his presidential campaign, Santorum was not much of a social crusader. The left and their collaborators in the media are the ones who are “obsessed” with social issues, having put them on the front lines of the 2012 campaign, including their contrived War on Women. Santorum could hardly stick to name, rank, and serial number when he was relentlessly badgered about abortion, gay marriage, and contraception on the campaign trail. At least he had the decency to be intellectually honest about his views rather than taking the politically expedient route.
But social conservatives have, by and large, moved on. If you look at the list of supposed presidential contenders (according to a recent Fox News poll), none are “screaming” about social issues. Leaving Christie out of this discussion because he seems to be evolving at the moment, all of the others on the list have professed, to one degree or another, support for the social conservative agenda. But which one of those potential candidates is running around the country “screaming” about them?
Instead, most social conservatives have shifted the debate to the issue of liberty. There is every reason to believe that it’s a winning strategy for Republicans to defend freedom and liberty — freedom of speech, religious liberty, the right to life. Even many on the left are beginning to reject the absurd and illiberal trajectory of what Mark Steyn has called the Bureau of Conformity Enforcement. When even liberal feminist Camille Paglia describes the fisking of a 67-year-old Christian grandfather from Louisiana as “punitive PC, utterly fascist, utterly Stalinist,” we know that support for this battle for freedom of conscience is growing by the hour. Though social issues are necessarily rooted in religious and moral questions, that’s not the only way to discuss them in the public square, as many conservatives are learning.
Neal Boortz wants a live-and-let-live America — a place where women can kill their “fetuses” with abandon and where marriage means whatever anyone wants it to mean on any particular day. Unfortunately, those things don’t happen in a vacuum. When our government forces private business owners with religious objections to pay for abortions or when all of us are forced to subsidize contraception for promiscuous 20 year olds, there is a loss of liberty experienced by those on the wrong side of the politically correct equation. When a photographer is forced by the government, under the threat of severe legal and financial penalties, to attend a gay wedding and to artistically present that wedding — against the dictates of his conscience — as a beautiful, blessed event, it deprives him of his liberty and endangers the free speech of all of us.
The contempt Boortz hurled at social conservatives is nothing new. It’s been common in certain circles to blame this substantial wing of the GOP for everything from Sandra Fluke’s contraceptive shortage to the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. The religious and ideological cleansing of the GOP has escalated in the year since Mitt Romney’s loss, as the consultants bought in to the meme that all social conservatives are racist, sexist, misogynist homophobes intent on following everyone into their bedrooms. It’s not true, but after two consecutive presidential losses, the GOP establishment needs a scapegoat. The problem with what Boortz and others are demanding is that it leaves social conservatives with very limited options. They can abandon the GOP, they can lie about “who they are” when asked about social issues, or they can fall in line and change their views to accommodate the prevailing ideology of the Left. None of those options are very appealing.
This isn’t only about controlling the direction of the Republican Party. It’s also about the national conversations we are having about the intersection of values and rights and the ability to hold alternative or unpopular viewpoints in a free society. The reality is that a significant percentage of social conservatives will not comply with the Bureau of Conformity Enforcement, whether it’s the Left or the GOP or the libertarians who are demanding compliance. If the party continues to evolve in the direction of the Left — silencing social conservatives and marginalizing their voice in the party — at some point they’re going to say “nobody puts Baby in a corner” and they will be done with an intolerant party that no longer represents their views.
Where they’ll go is anybody’s guess. A recent piece in Reason sarcastically posited that there are no options — “as if they would vote for Democrats otherwise?” No, not Democrats, but perhaps “none of the above” as many did in 2012 when, for a second straight presidential election, the national Republican Party and the consultant class disregarded the conservative base and pushed a moderate candidate. Apathetic voters will continue to threaten the future of the Republican Party if this trajectory continues.
The Republican Party needs to ask some existential questions about whether they can find enough Pajama Boys and former Ron Paul enthusiasts to show up on election day to replace the social conservatives they will continue to bleed if this purge continues. You would think the history of the Whigs would at least give them pause to consider that this might not end well.