Americans Too Free?
While I’m socially conservative on most issues, I’m by no stretch a Social Conservative. Yet I agree with Rod Dreher‘s rebuttal to those who argue that the salvation of the Republican Party will come from expelling the Religious Right:
John McCain didn’t get his clock cleaned because of his ardent advocacy for unborn life or his stout defense of traditional marriage — neither of which played anything but a bit part in the tragicomic McCain-Palin campaign.
No, McCain lost because the economy is collapsing on the watch of an unpopular Republican president, and he had no idea what to say about it. McCain lost because his party is incompetent. McCain lost because his choice of Sarah the Unready cast doubt about his judgment. And McCain lost because Barack Obama ran a great campaign.
Where is Jesus in any of that?
Besides, was it the religious right that conceived and executed the disastrous Iraq war? Did preachers deregulate Wall Street? Did evangelical leader James Dobson screw up the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina? Jack Abramoff — did he concoct his crooked lobbying schemes during long protest vigils outside abortion clinics? To be fair, religious conservatives didn’t stand up to any of this. We own a share of the GOP’s failure. But to scapegoat us for the Republican implosion is preposterous.
I do think GOP leaders have mistakenly courted these voters in a way that makes it difficult to attract non-devout voters, but that’s a different thing. The answer is to find a way to do Religious Right Plus, not to expel the largest part of the base from the party.
That said, Dreher couldn’t be much more wrong here:
Today, the greatest threats to conservative interests come not from the Soviet Union or high taxes, but from too much individual freedom. Look around you: Americans have been poor stewards of our economic liberty, owing to cultural values that celebrate unfettered materialism. Our families and communities have fragmented, in part because we have embraced an ethic of extreme individualism. Climate change and a peak in oil production threaten our future because we have been irresponsible caretakers of the natural world and its resources. At best, the religious right stood ineffectively against these trends. At worst, we preached them, mistaking consumerism for conservatism.
All political problems, traditional conservatism teaches, are ultimately religious problems because they result from disordered souls. In the era now dawning, Americans will learn again to live within limits — and together. Religious conservatives are philosophically positioned to lead the way, but we can’t do it by pouring new wine into old skins.
We’re going to have to learn to think and talk in terms — and not overtly religious ones — of building up civil society and its mediating institutions.
There are roles for government at the margins in all these issues. But we’re supposed to regulate against materialism in order to save ourselves from ourselves? Really?!