That Awful Word 'Social'
Now, perhaps I missed the memo, but has any such truce been offered that conservatives might accept?
I doubt it. Nor is this surprising. Democrats long ago discovered that what Mitch Daniels euphemistically referred to as “social issues” were effective sticks with which to beat Republicans, both conservatives and the other sort. If you glean your news from such purveyors of establishment sentiment as The New York Times, MSNBC, or the news offices of our major universities, you might think that Republican politicians were obsessed with those “social issues.” I think a good case could be made that many are terrified of that suite of issues. It is the left-wingers who keep them front and center. They’re ever ready to wheel them out for an impromptu “litmus test” to prove that the candidate in question is insufficiently blue, which is to say insufficiently base, ambiguity over the word “base” deliberate.
Aristotle defined “rhetoric” as the art of persuasion. It is the political art par excellence because the metabolism of politics ordinarily operates through persuasion, not demonstration or force. I submit that conservatives, through a combination of bumbling ineptness and historical accident, have unwittingly ceded the rhetorical high ground to the left. Unfolding the reasons for this would take us into deep and murky waters. For now, I’d merely like to suggest that if conservatives are going to be successful in “standing athwart history,” they need to be sure they are standing on solid ground.
Note bene: Conservatives do not win elections by pretending to be leftists. (And note, by the way, that I do not say “pretending to be liberals.” It is one of the signal rhetorical achievements of the left that it has managed to appropriate the term “liberal” for an ideology that is so conspicuously illiberal and antipathetic to freedom.)
But conservatives have repeatedly pretended to be leftists, or at least non-conservative. You see this partly in their disingenuous tergiversation over those “social issues.” More centrally, however, you see it in their abandonment of the enabling resources that have traditionally rendered the conservative vision of the world compelling.