How Social Conservatives Get it Wrong

Think all Republicans are religious, intolerant right-wingers? Take another look.

When one identifies oneself as a Republican, assumptions are made.

Hillary Rosen’s comment drew attention to . And with each of the Republican candidates asserting themselves as pro-life — although presumptive nominee Mitt Romney is a former choicer — the ensuing hysteria that Roe v. Wade will be overturned has reached fever pitch.

The unfortunate consequences of the well funded and noisy “religious right” hijacking the Republican party’s traditional values of small government, cautious spending and personal liberty are many. Ask yourselves these questions: will it affect your daily life if your lesbian or gay friends marry? How about if your babysitter begins taking birth control pills before she leaves for college? What if the nice lady three blocks over decides to terminate her pregnancy? And what if a coworker’s mother, dying from cancer and suffering unspeakable indignities, asks for euthanasia?  

Social conservatives believe that the government should take a strong role in determining a society’s moral code, thus increasing the presence of Big Brother in the average citizen’s day to day life. Yet, isn’t a society that guarantees freedom of religion already determining that moral code, without help from our elected officials? And how does that jive with fiscal conservatives who want less interference from our bloated governmental friends? 

As a fiscally conservative voter, I don’t believe that creating expensive, wasteful bureaucracy automatically solves society’s problems. And I definitely don’t want my government weighing in on whether or not I can get an abortion or whether my gay friends can get married.   

High handed moral commentary doesn’t sit well with the electorate at large. Even when the Republicans enjoyed Congressional majority plus Oval Office residency, Roe v. Wade remained intact; the “moral majority” did not succeed.  

I don’t believe that Republican leaders really believe in the pro-life cause. In fact, I think they think it’s a lost cause. They do not take up socially conservative reforms with the zeal of tax reform, government spending or universal health care. 

Nevertheless, many Republicans believe they require social conservatives’ support for electoral success. When they pander to these special interests, they lose what I believe is a growing constituency of voters who support limited government and low taxes but believe that what goes on in America's bedrooms and doctors offices is private. 

It’s time for our Republican leadership to stop pandering to the religious right so we can hear instead about their personal beliefs. Republicans talk about being pro-life — and they may be, in their own personal decisions — but they’re actually pro-choice.

Exhibit A? None other than Romney, who declared himself pro-choice during a senate run versus Democrat Ted Kennedy. Even after he decided he was pro-life while running for the governor’s seat years later, he did nothing to overturn Massachusetts’ pro-choice laws. In fact, he forced the state’s Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims. 

Exhibit B is the morning after pill, a topic that social conservatives scramble to address. Scientifically, the pill works before conception occurs, thereby removing the pro-lifer’s “personhood” argument. Even former presidential candidate Ron Paul, a physician by trade who also happens to be pro-life, stated that the morning after pill is nothing more than amped up birth control. And guess who made the morning after pill available over the counter to adults over the age of 18? Everyone’s favorite presidential punching bag, George W. Bush. 

So far — and this is why I think pro-choicers have little to fear — social conservatives have only demonstrated that they believe abortion is wrong. They have not proven to the American people why abortion — or gay marriage, for that matter — should be illegal. And I don’t believe that they will ever be able to win that argument, as evidenced by their abandonment of Roe v. Wade to focus on legislatively establishing a fetus as a person (and thus protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, negating Roe v. Wade). 

What is especially ironic about the conservative religious stranglehold is that socially conservative attitudes limit personal freedoms, a philosophy that Republicans say they hold dear. Extremist rhetoric from both sides forces level-headed voters out of the debate entirely. And it’s these level headed voters that the Republican Party needs most.


First, I believe that most voters — Democrat or Republican — believe that major health decisions should be private. Second, social services are expensive. Given the choice between keeping abortion legal and funding expensive bureaucratic programs, isn’t it wiser to allow personal health freedom while also limiting social spending? Third, legal abortion does not limit the individual’s right to not get an abortion — in other words, you’re still pro-life!

The point is that the Republican Party would be wise to adopt the “big tent” policy as espoused by the Republican Majority for Choice. These GOPers believe social tolerance promotes personal freedom and privacy through education and prevention initiatives. And as we all know, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Kristy Waizenegger May 03, 2012 at 11:47 AM
My personal feelings on the subject aside (and please don't presume to know my position on abortion), I hear this argument often and I believe it to be flawed. I think people miss the point or perhaps just set it aside because it might force them to see the issue differently. This argument is not about big or small government nor is it about the government being in anyone's business. The conservative argument is about the law. Many see abortion as murder and simply want the law to be applied consistently. You may not agree but it is a valid argument. If abortion is murder (and again, don't presume to know my personal opinion on this matter), then laws should be enforced. I'm in no way arguing for or against, I want to make this clear. What I am trying to do is get readers to question the logic being used to defeat an opinion that is simply not the same as yours. BTW, I think we can all agree that pandering is pretty common and certainly not exclusive to one party. Each party isolates their most likely voters and then the pandering begin. This is what is inherently wrong with politics today. Public servants don't serve the public anymore, they serve themselves. It's about writing useless legislation that nobody understands and it's about getting votes. It's a sad state of affairs. p.s. I assure you that when one identifies themselves as a Democrat, that certain assumptions are made.
HL May 03, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Kristy, I agree whole-heartedly with your points here, and I also understand where the author is coming from. I wanted to mention that there is a difference between several of the items that are being mentioned. While abortion is probably the most controversial due to the nature of termination and the interpretation of law, there are other points as well that lean more towards religion and social conservatism. For instance, helping an elderly loved one terminate life - by their decision - to avoid serious pain and suffering, is a little more of a grey area. Further down the spectrum is the notion of taking birth control to avoid pregnancy, and other lifestyle choices that have very little impact on others. Most of these areas are controversial for a reason. Often being faithful in a religion requires you to have a firm/absolute belief in the codes of that religion, which gives you very little room to be tolerant. It's not an easy situation. I do think there is something to the main crux of this article, however. There are many Republicans who believe in small government, and many Republicans who are socially conservative/religious - and these two things can clash.
HL May 03, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Wanted to add one more thing: In terms of "wanting to see the law applied consistently", that is only half of the issue. Typically on abortion, the real trick is interpreting the law (or changing it). The entire country agrees on the majority of laws that apply to end of life, there are just exceptions that are up for debate (everything from assisted termination to laws like Stand Your Ground in Florida). There are also attempts to change or clarify the bounds of the laws (such as abortion and when it would be considered an acceptable mother's choice). These laws are not static, and the laws themselves as well as their interpretations are always evolving.
Kristy Waizenegger May 03, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Hi - Definetely a complex issue - I find myself very conflicted about the subject - when we hear these horror stories about parents killing their own children, we are all understandably outraged but when the child is in the womb, it's different, or is it? It's a issue that will likely never be resolved and will continue to be controversial. On the other hand, the Democrats also do their share of pandering but with less controversial subjects. Those of us who speak out against illegal immigrants are called racists. Public assistance programs are out of control but anyone who says so is told they don't care about the needy. These talking points, designed to deflect people from the real issues, are just about keeping votes. The truth is that the real solutions to many of our country's problems would make politicians unpopular to some but until we have public servants who are brave enough to what's right and necessary, even at the expense of votes, nothing will change.
kma May 03, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Too bad the two above hijacked the article for their personal abortion adgenda. The point of the article, and it IS a very valid point, is the mainstream Republicans don't want the issue to be abortion - they want the issue to be personal freedom and reduced government!!! Andc we want the Republican party leadeership to start finding candidates who will tell the religious right to shut the h--- up and let us fix this economy.
Kristy Waizenegger May 03, 2012 at 04:46 PM
kma - As I said, my comments were intended to provide another viewpoint. My personal view is nowhere in my comment. Having said that, I tend to agree with the rest of your post. I think there are many republicans, myself included, who are fed up with the religious right hijacking (to use your word) our party. I suspect you could say the same about the far left. I'm sure there are many democrats who believe we should be enforcing immigration laws and working to get people off welfare. I believe in small government, responsible spending, reasonable taxation and individual accountability. I also believe that every American citizen is protected under the Constitution, something I think a whole bunch of people need to realize.
Lisa Bigelow May 04, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Thank you very much for reading and writing constructive, calm and reasonable points! As the author, I certainly appreciate it when rationality reigns! To Kristy, I certainly understand your view but I disagree with your main point. The conservative talking point is not really abortion's legality -- it's a tactic used by the religious right who believe that life begins at conception (thus my point about the 14th Amend.). And as a mom who personally chose life 3 times (out of three possibilities and the first when I was young), my own view -- for my personal life -- is that abortion was not a possibility. Nevertheless, I think it would be terrible for the country to return to a time when abortion was neither safe nor legal for women. And I think social services are expensive. Finally, as I state above, legal abortion does not limit the individual's right to NOT get an abortion. As a Republican, I want the upcoming election to stay focused on the economy and security of this nation. Period. Thanks again -- this thread made my day! -- Lisa B.
MAC May 04, 2012 at 08:50 PM
Mrs. Bigelow, I read your 4/19 piece entitled "Tempest in a Teapot Begins Candidates’...." and agree with pretty much all of it. In it you accurately assessed the phoniness of the "war on women" mantra. I especially appreciate and say amen to your "statements" 1, 6 and 7, the latter two of which are:  "6.  Welfare is a not a reasonable lifestyle choice, and it's sometimes abused.  7.  Set goals and work hard. And if you fail, work harder." With those common sense, "you reap what you sow" perspectives, I am surprised and disappointed that you seemingly fail to see the connection of "social" conservatism with fiscal conservatism. In my view, they are inextricably connected--as the Founders of our nation recognized. Are you unfamiliar with the below John Adams quote?: "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.... Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." More recently, (for those who will proclaim that Adams has no relevance to today) do you disagree with this?: "without God democracy will not and cannot long endure. . . If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a Nation gone under." Pres. Ronald Reagan in Aug. 1984
Kristy Waizenegger May 04, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Hi Lisa - I think we actually are on the same page, we're just getting there a different way. Their contention that life begins at conception (and they may be right) is what justifies their position that abortion is murder, which is illegal. I see the merits of their argument but I think they erred in their "communication strategy" and their message got lost. I wholeheartedly agree with you though that Presidential campaigns tend to get really hung up on this one issue rather than other pressing challenges our country currently faces. Support for any President should not be based on this one issue.


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