Are Social Conservative Movements Always Doomed to Fail?

By Michael Baker

The NTY is running an illuminating piece about younger Republicans and their effort to avoid the issues of abortion and gay marriage while pounding the pavement for Romney.  The idea is that young people – even the ones who consider themselves Republicans – tend to lean liberal on social issues.

This just begs the question – can social conservatives ever expect to win a major struggle in the long run?  Obviously they may win a battle here or there (such as the passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or the Defense of Marriage Act), but history indicates that they will lose the war.  The explanation seems simple enough: young people grow up accepting the world as it is and not as it was, so they’re comfortable with all of the groovy newish stuff that their parents or grandparents might have found threatening.  As the older generations die off and the younger ones come into power, progress (or the deterioration of America’s moral fiber, depending on how you look at it) happens.

However, the one issue that social conservatives are never willing to give an inch on – abortion – doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.  True, the Supreme Court has declared abortion a Constitutional right for adult women, but did so by reading it implicitly, which means there’s no certainty that a conservative Court (which we may well get if Romney is elected) wouldn’t be willing to reconsider.  And of course the public debate on the topic has never been more fervent.

So what makes abortion different from, say, gay marriage, civil rights, or women’s suffrage?  I guess it’s that most social issues tend to focus on the rights of a particular group of people, and as perception of that group and its role in society evolves, public policy follows suit.  With abortion, that’s just not going to happen.  Whether you’re pro-choice or pro-life, your conception of abortion as either a woman’s reproductive choice or the killing of an unborn child is not likely to evolve.

But aside from abortion, I don’t see the social conservatives winning any wars, as the Young Republicans might be completely willing or even happy to admit.  As they point out, social issues aren’t their priority anyhow.  That’s reassuring for those of us in the Middle, but it makes you wonder whether the Religious Right will remain willing to go along for the ride.

Of course, social conservatism itself isn’t going anywhere.  While the causes may change, there’s always going to be something for uptight people with too much free time to get offended about.  And when they do, the Santorums and Huckabees of the world will be there to cash in.