Out of Touch
(AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
The latest string of sex scandals (the subject of which are a few socially conservative, “family values” Republicans) reveals an unfortunate truth—today’s conservatives are a socially inadequate bunch. And by that I mean the outlook on social issues that these conservatives hold are inadequately representative of modern America. On issue after issue, conservative lawmakers and activists find themselves on the wrong side of the growing majority, clinging to a series of increasingly outmoded ideas as they alienate the better part of a generation.
Let’s start with sex. Mainstream conservatism’s puritanical boast on sex and family values has become self-satire. Scores of the same politicians who thrust Bill Clinton’s impeachment down the nation’s throat have emulated the infidelity they’ve attacked: chiefly Newt Gingrich, Larry Craig, Mark Sanford, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, John Ensign, and many more. Our judgments of lawmakers should be based on their accomplishments rather than their private lives—which, ironically, these conservatives have made difficult.
Moreover, the conservative abstinence-only fantasy turned comical after then-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol became pregnant at the age of 17. After the election, she went on a tour promoting abstinence, even though she had publicly called abstinence “not realistic at all.” The notion that you can talk teenagers out of having sex is not only silly and archaic; it’s destructive as it leads to young people having a lack of knowledge about sexual health and sexuality. But such an emphasis on abstinence might be the way of the past, since the 2010 budget slashes funding for abstinence-only programming.
Another area where conservatives are losing is LGBT rights. Intellectualize this issue all you want—it’s a matter of basic equality, nothing more. There’s no sense arguing for “traditional” marriage values when even conservatives supported the concept evolving from a property exchange to a bond that can be binding or not binding, forever or not forever, to start a family or not to – the only enduring constant being the love between two people. With the continuation of DADT and the foundering of ENDA, America still has a long way to go. But public support for gay rights has been on the rise and conservatives are growing even more antagonistic.
Abortion, which tends to be the bread-and-butter issue for social conservatives, seems to be at more or less of a standstill. The issue has resurged as a potential poison pill in the health care debate, with pro-life activists and conservative politicians opposing federal funding for abortions as a way to kill reform legislation. Poll after poll shows strong support for keeping abortion legal (albeit with some conditions), but the right shows no signs of letting go. Social conservatives seem determined to impose their morally ambiguous view of when life begins on everybody. What happened to limited government and keeping government out of people’s lives?
Then there’s race. While it would be vile and wrong to label all conservatives as racists, the party isn’t doing much to shed these troubled stereotypes. Audra Shay’s racist debacle on Facebook didn’t stop the 38-year-old from becoming Chairperson of the Young Republicans. Pat Buchanan’s recent tirade on Rachel Maddow about the sordid oppression of white males hardly provoked a retort from the right. And conservative politicians’ rabid questioning of Sonia Sotomayor reeked of this same attitude—over a completely innocuous quote that she had long since repudiated. Apparently, the most salient form of racism according to prominent conservatives is that against white males.
It seems strange when the most relevant voice of moderate conservatism today is Meghan McCain, who defies conservatism’s antiquated social views. She calls herself a “pro-sex woman,” against abstinence-only education and for LGBT rights. “I just think that we have people that are in this party that are hijacking it and trying to make it more extreme,” she said this May on The Colbert Report. Meghan, of course, is a liberal trapped in conservative chambers by filial design. Nobody with her outlook would otherwise feel connected to what the conservative movement has become.
It doesn’t then come as any real surprise that conservative states, despite their lofty moral posturing, have notably higher rates of divorce, obesity and teen pregnancy than heathen costal elite states. It’s also not surprising that your average gay-bashing conservative politician has proven more likely to get caught amid company in the men’s room than Clay Aiken. The staunchest conservatives put more emphasis on imposing morality on others, but seem to have the hardest time imposing it on themselves. Today’s youth in America is fairly progressive across the board, but particularly so on social issues. So the longer conservatives cling to their obsolete views, the more future generations they’re going to alienate—and the more they risk fading into irrelevancy.
Sahil Kapur is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and The Guardian. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College this spring.