Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Pragmatic Case For Romney

The Pragmatic Case For Romney
There is much that I like about Rick Santorum.  I agree with him on some issues.  I am a social conservative, although I disagree with Santorum about some particular details.  I like the fact that he seems to pretty consistently stick to his positions, even when it is not popular.  I get the impression that there are many Republicans who, even when they disagree with Santorum, at least respect his integrity in telling people what he thinks, not what his audience wants to hear.  I reluctantly supported Santorum in the Republican presidential caucuses here in Idaho in March.  But there is a strong case, regrettably, for why, of the remaining nominees, Romney is the best choice even for social conservatives.

I know that Romney is not a social conservative.  Here is a very painful truth that many social conservatives may not want to hear: this is no longer a Christian nation.  When I grew up, it was a hypocritical Christian nation.  Christian values were widely stated, and even widely held, but as with most situations where a strong majority imposed its view through law, there were a lot of hypocrites: people who went to church, pretended that faith was important, but did not let it get in the way of doing what they wanted to do.  To the extent that American society was civilized when I was young, it was largely because much evil was driven underground.  “Hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue,” as Victorians sometimes said.  There is much to be said in favor of having those vices hiding in the shadows instead of marching down Main Street, but let’s not pretend that everything was wonderful in the 1950s.
Do we have any chance of getting back to a society built around Juedo-Christian values?  Maybe, but not by a direct frontal assault.  When I was in grad school, another grad student (and a graying member of the New Left) pointed out that part of how socialism went from a radical, dangerous idea in 1870 to control of the British government after World War II was not by sudden change, but by the use of a trimtab. 
What is a trimtab?  It’s a part of the rudder on a very large ship.  If you try to move the rudder on an ocean liner that is already under way, the amount of force required to interrupt the flow of water is enormous.  Instead, a trimtab is a small part of the rudder that, when moved, causes that flow of water past the rudder to form eddies, breaking up the even flow.  This reduces the force required to move the rudder as a whole.
If you are over 50, you have noticed that American society has undergone a dramatic change since 1965.  It did not change over night, but by a series of cumulative changes, each of which built upon a previous change.  Same-sex marriage in 1960 would have been inconceivable.  (Homosexual sex, even in private, was still a criminal offense in every state.)  Publicly advertised live sex shows would have been inconceivable.  Ditto for abortion on demand, antidiscrimination laws for homosexuals, and the government giving out condoms and lube to 12 year olds.
It is not just about sex.  Gun control laws were adopted one slice at a time, until in some states, gun control advocates had ¼ or 1/3 of the loaf—and we are now whittling that back—but again, we getting those rights back, not in giant revolutionary steps, but evolutionarily, in one slice at a time.  Decriminalization of marijuana possession (which used to be a felony) was also done through the trimtab principle: one slice at a time, through leftist control of the entertainment media, and steady chiseling away at the old consensus.
My guess is that President Romney is going to appoint a few social conservative judges to the federal courts—which is to say, he will appoint some.  There is no danger that Obama will appoint any.  Romney won’t appoint as many social conservative judges as President Santorum, no question—but President Santorum does not seem like a realistic possibility in a country where most people operate on the “if it feels good, do it” principle.  I know what sort of country I live in, and it is not one where social conservatives have enough votes to elect someone like Santorum.  This is especially true when running against Obama, who remains popular, presumably because of the great job he has done on ending the recession and putting everyone back to work.  (Yes, that’s sarcasm, for those readers who honestly think that he has been successful at this.  I see liberals actually making that argument.)
Think of Romney as a trimtab on the way towards a more conservative America.  Romney might destabilize the leftist flow around the national rudder enough that we can start to turn direction—and our next president could be a bit more conservative.  The one thing that I am sure of is that while Romney won’t be any social conservative’s dream President of the United States, this country can’t afford four more years of Obama, and that’s the realistic choice.


  1. Clayton, I love you, not least because of what you did to Bellesiles and your travails with Righthaven but I think you are being shortsighted here. The problem is that Romney is and always has been a liberal. His sole advantage over Obama is competence but given his policy positions, I don't think this is a positive. It is important that we maintain an actual conservative party here so we don't end up like Germany with two socialist parties or Britain with three. Romney as the Republican nominee takes us down this road. If the Republican party won't be the conservative party, we have to replace them or succumb to socialism.

  2. An actual conservative party is a nice thing, but then we need some conservatives to fill it, don't we? And I just don't see many of them left. Where I live in Idaho, our presidential caucus went for Ron Paul; only the slightly more conservative parts of the county took us into the Romney camp, and by a thin margin. Republicans are increasingly of the "if it feels good, do it" mindset, including large numbers of Republicans who regularly attend evangelical churches.

  3. And yes, I have little hope that this country will survive.

  4. Interesting observations.

    I think you are spot on regarding Romney having the best chances at the general election though for sure he will have a big challenge including receiving enough Republican votes and independent and more conservative Dems. Votes HE MUST get to win the election.

    At the Ada County caucus Romney won on the first round. I heard Santorum supporters say they would vote Romney in November if that's what it would take to oust Obama. Though I have wondered how many evangelicals will not vote for him no matter what because of LDS.

    The GOP seems to be headed into splitting into two parties and especially so if they lose this November.

    The US has changed and it is not likely to return from whence it came.

    Sadly we have to take the castor oil of the best we can get.

  5. This is why when this topic comes up I mention the importance of the House and Senate races, which aren't getting any oxygen this election cycle.

  6. I think that, to claim that the Republicans are the "conservative" party, is a bit of stretching, at best. We would do well to remember that it was Republicans that brought us the EPA, OSHA, Medicare D, and other such things.

    Indeed, historically, Republicans have always had a streak of big-governmentalism; it's just that, with the Democrat party betraying its libertarian and small government origins, the Republicans kindof got shoehorned into the roll of "small government", and have never done too well at it.

    Thus, I'm not satisfied with any of the four candidates, because each of the four have demonstrated large government tendencies (even Ron-I'll-vote-against-the-bill-but-put-in-gobs-of-money-for-my-district-because-it's-going-to-pass-anyway-Paul).

    As for myself, I was hoping for a brokered convention!

  7. Keep in mind that EPA and OSHA involved a Democratic-controlled Congress--and the whole country was considerably further to the left on economic issues than it is today. I can remember a time when arguing for free markets was so gauche that to do so immediately labeled you as a crank. Today, the argument is about how much regulation is appropriate.

    Medicare Part D was part of W's "compassionate conservativism" which wasn't conservative at all.