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?!

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, US Politics, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. M1EK says:

    I’ve voted for lots of Republicans in the past, but I won’t do so again until the kow-towing to the Religious Right stops.

    There was more than one strain of failure running through this election – the NeoCons’ bizarre incompetence and unwillingness to change being the other main one – but that’s a short-term problem. Deciding to become the party of know-nothings is a long-term problem for all of us – and I can’t be part of it even indirectly.




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  2. Franklin says:

    Materialism is attacked by both sides, and yet nothing seems to stop it but economics. I don’t see how the religious right is in any better position to move away from materialism than any other group.




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  3. Dave Schuler says:

    I continue to think that this is the tail talking about expelling the dog. Here’s an exercise for the interested advocate. Take a list of the leadership of the Republican Party (national leaders, leaders of state parties) and figure out for each person whether under the plan to expel the Religious Right whether each actual person will be expelled or retained.

    I strongly suspect you’ll find the party leadership is what you’re trying to expel. What’s really being said is that one relatively small segment of the part doesn’t like the rest of the party.




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  4. ken says:

    I have found that most people who vote republican and claim to be Christian are more Republican than they are Christian.

    The Christian faith is not very compatible with the conservative political philosophy of intolerance and materialism. So generally it is a mistake to credit these people as being informed by the values of Christ. Instead they adapt their religious beliefs and values to fit their political views.

    But as a practical political matter the Republican party has been very successful convincing a lot of people that politics and religion go hand in hand, that the way to heaven is through the ballot box. I don’ think they can afford to give this tactic up if they want to win elections. It worked once, it will probably work again.




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  5. I have found that most people who caricature those who vote republican and claim to be Christian are more delusional than insightful.




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  6. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    James, you call the Iraq war a disaster. Just how long is it you think Saddam should have stayed in power? What would have been the crime he committed you think he should have been removed for? How many peoples death did he have to be responsible for, for you to think it was worth it to remove him? Do you think the world would be a better, safer place with Saddam as dictator in Iraq? Since Saddam owned 500 tons of Yellowcake Uranium, how long do you think it would have taken him to build a nuclear weapon, with the plans he had and the material to build detonators? You know, James, they expected to fill 10,000 body bags in the first gulf war. Still have not reached that number. Seems this is about the least costly, people wise, of any war we have prosecuted.




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  7. ken says:

    Just how long is it you think Saddam should have stayed in power? What would have been the crime he committed you think he should have been removed for? How many peoples death did he have to be responsible for, for you to think it was worth it to remove him?

    Well since he was never responsible for the death of a single American not engaged in aggressive action against him I don’t see how it was ever our responsibility to remove him. He was certainly one of many dictators who deserved to be overthrown. No question about it. But it was never our responsibility. Our responsibilities lie elsewhere right here at home. We had an illegitimate president occupying the White House we should have been dealing with.




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  8. James Joyner says:

    I strongly suspect you’ll find the party leadership is what you’re trying to expel. What’s really being said is that one relatively small segment of the part doesn’t like the rest of the party.

    There’s something to this, to be sure. Still, roughly 40 percent of the populace regularly votes Republican. They’re not all hard core Evangelicals.

    Just how long is it you think Saddam should have stayed in power?

    We lost fewer than 200 dead to removing Saddam from power, which I supported. We’ve lost upwards of 4000 dead trying to make the place set for democracy.




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  9. Steve Verdon says:

    I think there is some middle ground here though. While you can say McCain lost not because of Jesus, but because of an utter failure of the Republican party to have a coherent economic position. Hell they don’t even have an unpopular position…they have nothing.

    It is all about terrorism, gays, and Mexicans when you strip away most of the nonsense. The economy stupid. When it gets bad that is all people care about and on that topic McCain was perhaps the worst choice of a field that was generally pretty damned bad.

    Stop brown nosing with the Religious Right and formulate a coherent economic position and argue it. Failure to do so while the economy sucks will mean Republicans will be an irrelevant party for at least 2 to 3 years. Maybe longer.




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  10. Phil Smith says:

    While I’m socially conservative on most issues, I’m by no stretch a Social Conservative.

    I have no idea how to parse that statement.




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  11. Note the use or absence of capital letters.




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  12. James Joyner says:

    I have no idea how to parse that statement.

    Mostly, it has do with one’s outlook on how people should act versus one’s outlook on the degree to which government should force them to act that way.




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  13. ew says:

    I think you’re oversimplifying for the liberal illuminati, republican thinkers, etc, to say the election was lost due to the religious right. There was so much more in play than that.




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  14. Bandit says:

    Saddam and his sons would have continued to run Iraq as a death camp for at least the next 50 years. Always amzing how the left and totalitarian mass murderers are always on the same side.




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  15. sam says:

    Today, the greatest threats to conservative interests come not from the Soviet Union or high taxes, but from too much individual freedom.

    Ha! The main argument for capitalism, as far as I can see (and a very good one, it is), is that it frees human beings to follow their own stars, for good or ill. Whenever I read these kinds of things (Dreher), I’m always reminded of something George Will wrote many years ago: Capitalism destroys capitalist (read: conservative) values. You really can’t on the one hand champion an certain economic system and then on the other lament the very thing that drives it and gives it so much power. That is, you can’t if you’re intellectually honest.




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  16. anjin-san says:

    Seems this is about the least costly, people wise, of any war we have prosecuted.

    Spoken like a man who’s ass was safe at home when the shooting started.

    Saddam and his sons would have continued to run Iraq as a death camp for at least the next 50 years. Always amzing how the left and totalitarian mass murderers are always on the same side

    .

    Have you checked the record of the government in China when it comes to being totalitarian mass murderers? You know, China, our banker and business partner? How much crap from China have do you have in your home bubba?




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  17. ErikTheRed says:

    I think that most of the small-“l” libertarians like myself are extremely frustrated with the Republican party because it spends nearly 100% of its time and energy on “social con” issues. We don’t even get lip service about small and limited government anymore. We get to chose between big-government social conservatives and big-government social liberals. If it weren’t for national security there’d be no difference whatsoever between the parties as far as our issues go.

    It’s about concentrating power in the government. Liberals want to use government power to enhance our karma, and social conservatives want to use government power to save our souls. They’re just different sides of the EXACT SAME nanny-state coin. As long as we keep concentrating power in Washington (and the state capitals) we have this feeding frenzy of power-crazed tyrants who think they know what’s best for us. Just guard the coasts, run the courts, keep the peace, and otherwise leave us alone.

    So yes, we want to marginalize the social con agenda, because in our minds it’s just as bad as the crap we get from the left. We have no problem working with social cons on areas where our interests overlap, such as national security. Over the last decade or so, however, it seems that social cons care nothing at all about fiscal responsibility, capitalism, privacy rights, etc. (see: the last 8 years).




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  18. odograph says:

    Serious first:

    If we look at polls, of each party, and then of the nation overall, don’t registered Republicans diverge from the full national perspective more than registered Democrats? I’d think that what they call “core Christian” beliefs might more often be points of divergence than agreement.

    Another serious note:

    I am sensitive to the fact that Republicans describe their movement as “Christian” when the positions they draw are actually from very specific Christian sects.

    Its that much more serious when the phrase “non-devout voters” is used but meant to exclude American Muslims, etc.

    More flippant:

    The Christian faith is not very compatible with the conservative political philosophy of intolerance and materialism. So generally it is a mistake to credit these people as being informed by the values of Christ. Instead they adapt their religious beliefs and values to fit their political views.

    Christians for Torture and Domestic Spying?

    It’s true. It’s got more of a Christian tradition than we like to admit. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!




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