The Conservative Disadvantage

By Stefano Gennarini, February 7, 2019

If the status quo is the end game for conservatives, then there can never be hope for a long-term political victory, only momentary setbacks to the progressive agenda. The victories of social progressivism have less to do with the ideology of the founding than the moral failure of men and women in every generation to stop evil from progressing.

Conservatives, and social conservatives especially, always seem to be on the losing side of politics. No matter what the issue, be it fiscal or social, conservatives eventually always seem to lose. This naturally raises the question: are conservatives really on the wrong side of history, just as progressives contend?

Some conservatives answer that the social decay of America is the result of a flaw in the liberal American project. Conservatives, they maintain, were always going to lose. Others suggest that Christians must admit defeat and rethink their entire political strategy.

These counsels contain essential elements of truth. Who can deny the flaws in the American project or conservative politics? But maybe something else is at work in the conservative debacle—something more elemental and human, and less ideological.

The Conservative Disposition

For starters, there is something in the political disposition of conservatives that always puts them at a disadvantage. Conservatives, by definition, are in favor of conserving the status quo. They don’t really have a political project and only ever play defense.

Debates between conservatives are almost always about how much ground to concede to progressives—whether or not to fight particular progressive gains. They are never about what can be done to advance a concrete conservative political agenda.

Since conservatives never advance their own positive agenda, when progressives make gains, the progressive agenda of yesterday becomes today’s status quo for conservatives. The political center inexorably shifts further and further to the left. It’s as though the political process were rigged from the start to favor progressives.

Under this predicament, a reversal of progressivism’s gains is not just elusive, it is impossible. If the status quo is the end game for conservatives, then there can never be hope for a long-term political victory, only momentary setbacks to the progressive agenda. The most conservatives can ever hope for is a temporary respite from the relentless advance of progressivism.

Conservative Slippage on Abortion and Homosexual Marriage

Examples of conservative slippage and progressive success abound on many political fronts, beginning with how lascivious Republicans become with taxpayer money when they are in power. But the conservative disadvantage is especially glaring on social issues. After eight years of the Obama administration, the center seems to have shifted so far to the left that no politician wants to even attempt a serious rightward correction, let alone a correction that will endure subsequent Democratic administrations and congressional majorities.

The capitulation of social conservatives to the rape exception in the abortion debate is emblematic of how eager conservatives are to find a new status quo with every progressive turn. Once thought of as a way for conservatives to restrict abortion with support from Democrats, the health and rape exceptions have now become the de facto position for the majority of Republicans.

By contrast, Democrats went from claiming abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare” under the Clinton administration to championing “shout your abortion” and making abortion a litmus test for the Democratic party with Nancy Pelosi. And while pro-lifers squabble over the rape exception and heartbeat bills, abortion groups and their supporters are united in asking for restrictions on pro-life speech and the abolition of any conscience protections for medical providers.

Similarly, conservatives’ rapid capitulation to homosexual marriage shows just how quickly even something widely considered abhorrent by society can become acceptable to all but the staunchest of social conservatives.

A mere twenty years after the Defense of Marriage Act was passed with overwhelming support by Congress, and only shortly after a majority of states democratically rejected homosexual marriage, the Supreme Court imposed homosexual marriage on all fifty states. The vast majority of conservatives have humbly submitted without as much as a peep.

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Stefano Gennarini is the Vice President for Legal Studies at the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam) in New York. He tweets as @prolifeadvocate. The views expressed here are solely his own.