Rick Santorum and Martin Luther King, Jr.: Social Conservatives

Rick Santorum and Martin Luther King, Jr.: Social Conservatives

2 802

One of the more interesting and quite objectionable efforts in this nascent 2012 election season is the attempt by some prominent conservative political pundits, of a secular and libertarian bent, to silence and delegitimize social and cultural conservatives.

This typically has meant cheaply and unfairly attacking former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who has not shied away from contentious moral issues involving the sanctity of human life and the importance of the institution of marriage.

Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, for instance, has published a long and rambling screed arguing that because Santorum believes the American system of government has an explicitly moral foundation, he somehow “doesn’t understand America.”

“Quite frankly,” Rubin lectures, “Santorum’s assertion . . . reflects a certain constitutional illiteracy and is at odds at a fundamental level with modern conservatism.”

In Rubin’s view, social and cultural conservatives are a dangerous and passionate “faction” that must be reined in and contained. “The Founders,” she sternly warns, “were aiming to minimize the damage that could be wrought by people so convinced of their own positions that they will override the liberties of others and inflate and misuse the power of government.”

But who, exactly, is “inflating and misusing the power of government” to “override the liberties of others”? Is it social and cultural conservatives or the secular, “progressive” left?

It’s the “progressive” left, which has demanded that the Supreme Court, the judicial branch of government, ban voluntary school prayer, redefine the institution of marriage, declare null and void legislation protecting embryonic human life, force the Boy Scouts to admit openly gay scout masters, deny a citizen his right to bear arms, etc.

Indeed, in these and other contentious political and legal battles, social and cultural conservatives are the passive victims, and the “progressives” are the aggressors. Social and cultural conservatives seek simply to retain the Founders’ desire for a federal system of government which allows for true political and legal diversity vis-à-vis contentious moral and cultural issues.

Does anyone seriously think, for instance, that New York City will ever pass legislation that extends full civil rights protection to unborn children; or that it will allow for the concealed carry of handguns? But what’s good for New York City may not be good for, say, Bosque County, Texas. And all Santorum and other social and cultural conservatives are saying is: Don’t use the federal government to impose New York City’s political values on Bosque County, Texas.

Rubin, then, has it exactly backwards: It is not the social and cultural right that is a dangerous and passionate “faction” that must be reined in and contained, but rather the rabidly secular and power-hungry “progressive” left.

And as for the American system of government supposedly being devoid of a moral foundation, well, that certainly would be news to our Founding Fathers who, pace Rubin, explicitly argued the exact opposite.

“Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of free government,” said George Washington in his 1796 Farewell Address.

“It is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand,” declared John Adams.

“And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?” asked Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson penned those words in a letter arguing against slavery. This is fitting because, of course, the fierce disputes over slavery and civil rights for blacks involved explicitly moral or social issues. The 19th-century abolitionists saw this, as did the 20th-century civil rights advocates.

Martin Luther King, Jr., in fact, cited the Declaration of Independence in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

And what does the Declaration of Independence say, exactly?

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Rubin and other secular, libertarian-minded conservatives may not want to admit it, but social and cultural conservatism is in full accordance with the American political and legal tradition, and thank goodness for that. And so, the social and cultural issues will be part and parcel of our political and legal debate for years and decades to come. And no amount of historical revisionism can ever change that. Amen.

Cross-posted under a different title (“Santorum is right: social conservatism is central to the American political tradition”) at the Daily Caller.

John Guardiano is an Arlington, Virginia-based writer and analyst who blogs for a variety of publications, including:  FrumForum, the Daily Caller and the American Spectator. You can follow him at Twitter (@JohnRGuardiano) and at his personal blog, ResoluteCon.

  • Chad

    Strawman: "I can't respond responsibly as to why social conservatives are okay, so I'll just stick to why progressives are worse."-Blog summarized

    • Susannah

      I'm not sure if you thoroughly read his column or not, but this author clearly explained that social conservatism is 100% in line with the Constitution and the vision of the Founding Fathers. If that bothers you, then so be it (but your gripe is with the Founding Fathers, not with this author's reasoning).

      BTW, great column John!!

      Take care. :-)

      X0X0, Suzi