July 12, 2014


As much as cultural outreach matters, I wouldn’t want the kind of conservative political party that essentially declines to represent populist and social conservatives at all on many issues, enforcing an elite consensus instead of representing its own constituents wherever those constituents seem too disreputable or insufficiently cosmopolitan. This is what you have on the center-right in many European countries, Sullivan’s native isle at times included, and I don’t think it’s worked out particularly well: When it hasn’t led directly to disaster (see Eurozone, disastrous anti-democratic expansion of), it’s often shunted important issues (immigration, religious identity, crime, multiculturalism, etc.) to a back burner, where they simmer and simmer until some crisis makes them boil over, and the next thing you know you have to deal with a Marine Le Pen (if not a Golden Dawn). And to a lesser extent this is the dynamic that’s made the Tea Party so angry, uncompromising and intermittently destructive in our own politics — the sense, often somewhat accurate, that their leaders want their votes but not their ideas, and that there are semi-deliberate conspiracies to deceive them about what their elected representatives are really after.

The reality is that, except in truly exceptional cases, our politics is better off in the long run when views held by large proportions of the public are represented in some form by one of our two parties. Right now (to run down a partial list of divisive cultural issues), a plurality of Americans want the immigration rate decreased; about half the country opposes affirmative action; more than half supports the death penalty; about half of Americans call themselves pro-life. Support for gay marriage and marijuana legalization has skyrocketed, but in both cases about 40 percent of the country is still opposed. Even independent of my own (yes, populist and socially conservative) views, I think these people, these opinions, deserve democratic representation: Representation that leads and channels and restrains, representation that recognizes trends and trajectories and political realities, but also representation that makes them feel well-served, spoken for, and (in the case of issues where they’re probably on the losing side) respected even in defeat.

As opposed, I guess, to an “I won” philosophy.

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