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What the hell is a social conservative?

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What the hell is a social conservative?

Raff Ellis 

Language is a living, breathing organism, one that naturally evolves over time. Popular usage changes ever more quickly to shade the meaning of words that were long accepted to mean something else. Modern communication devices such as the Internet and cell phones through the use of texting only serve to hasten this process. Positive words can quickly turn negative and vice versa. As an example, once upon a time being gay meant that you had a happy outlook on life. Now of course it commonly refers to sexual orientation. There also was a time not too long ago when "making love" didn't involve intimate relations with the object of your affection.

 Politicians have become masters at taking advantage of this process. The Republican spinmeisters, through a concerted PR effort, have made the formerly perfectly acceptable word liberal into a politically derogatory term. The campaign to label and castigate persons as liberal has been so successful that many in public life who have a truly liberal philosophy have become loath to claim it. The dictionary says that a liberal is one who favors progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs. Further, it pertains to persons who favor or are in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties. These perfectly laudable characteristics are now represented by a pejorative sobriquet. Contrasting the liberal point of view is the doctrine of conservatism, a term that has actually become politically desirable. A conservative, the dictionary says, is one who is disposed to preserving existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restoring traditional ones, and to limit change.

It makes one wonder how the Republican Party, with its recently co-opted Obama mantra, can talk about change while embracing conservative values? This is a bit oxymoronic or schizophrenic, don't you think? To further roil the language pool, Republicans have sought to become more publicly palatable by the addition of qualifiers such as compassionate. Longtime Bush family aide and campaign staffer Doug Wead coined the term twenty years ago and George W used it rather effectively in his 2000 campaign for the presidency. It was intended to mean that you will preserve existing conditions for the right reasons, i.e. while improving the general welfare of society. I'm fairly certain that a majority of those who voted for Bush have no idea what that terminology was supposed to mean. And, given the performance of the last eight years, it certainly hasn't worked to their benefit. But it is a nice sounding slogan. 

As the current presidential election nears, we have been given yet another euphonious phrase to digest. The mainstream media can hardly mention vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin without adding that she is a social conservative. I've yet to hear one commentator even attempt to define that political ideology, probably with good reason--they don't know what it means. It is such a totally subjective philosophy that it can be defined any way that is convenient at the moment. The generally accepted definition is a political or moral ideology that affirms behaviors associated with a culture's traditions. Since cultures vary across a wide spectrum, such dogmas can actually end up opposed to one another in different areas or geographies. For example, I doubt that Ms Palin would embrace the cultural values of her aboriginal neighbors, the Yupik, as part of her social conservatism.


The social conservative's concern for material welfare, like advocacy of traditional mores, will often have a basis in the religion of the social conservative in question. Thus the religious traditions of Ms Palin will necessarily inform her so-called socially conservative philosophy. Her stance on issues such as sex education, contraception, and abortion have become well known. We also have been given glimpses into her flirtations with secession, creationism, and dispensationalism. That Americans, in the 21st Century, would seriously consider giving the vice presidency of the United States to a woman who thinks the world was created 6,000 years is mind boggling to say the least.


Our guardians of the public trust, the mainstream media, do not seem to be up to the task of examining or pointing out the absurdities in the campaign press releases that they parrot over the airwaves. Wake up America! You are being set up to get suckered again with a nice-sounding catch phrase--social conservatism.

 Raff Ellis is an author and freelance writer living in Florida.


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Author/Lecturer, frequent writer of short stories, essays, and political commentary. Mr Ellis has numerous pieces published in newspapers, magazines, and on various Internet web sites. He is the author of the recently published memoir, "Kisses from (more...)
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