Social conservatives’ dire moment: Why they’re slowly losing America

There's a very hopeful trend -- but justice also entails economic issues. And here's where things get complicated

Topics: Social conservatives, Liberals, economic justice, Martin Luther King, Editor's Picks, Polls, Gallup, The Right, Religious Right, Liberalism,

Social conservatives' dire moment: Why they're slowly losing America Rick Santorum, Marsha Blackburn, Mike Huckabee (Credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta/J. Scott Applewhite/Reuters/Joe Skipper/Salon)

Here’s some good news for us all to ponder: According to Gallup, the right-wing offensive in the culture war is being turned back.  Their advantage on social issues has shrunk to a mere 4 points.

Currently, 34% of Americans say they are conservative, 35% say moderate, and 30% say liberal on social issues.

The convergence on social issues is obviously a step in the right direction although if you were even mildly sentient the last couple of years you would have already seen that issues such as gay marriage and marijuana legalization are rapidly succumbing to the malevolent forces of toleration. The real question here is what these people consider “social issues” and what they consider “conservative, moderate and liberal.” Gallup uses self-identification for the ideological terms, which is probably fine, and that shows more people are calling themselves liberal while fewer self-identify as conservative. It would appear that the word “liberal” has finally ceased to be an epithet, at least among people who have progressive ideas.

And as for social issues, here are the examples they offer:

Americans’ increasingly liberal views on social issues are apparent in trends showing that the public is exhibiting greater support for gay marriage, legalizing marijuana, and having a baby outside of marriage, and diminished support for the death penalty.



I’d say those are all legitimately social issues, much of the change being driven by younger people who have grown up in a time of normalization of all those issues. The one glaring exception is abortion rights, which form the front lines of today’s culture wars. Gallup’s latest polling on that issue shows very little change in attitudes:

For all the fighting, no ground has been gained or lost in this battle for decades. And the influx of younger people isn’t making a difference.  So it may be premature to call the culture war over, or claim that liberals have won a big victory — this is the big one. And despite the static nature of the polling over decades, the antiabortion forces are the ones taking new territory. (And they’ve expanded that front to birth control.)

However, it’s worthwhile to take a closer look at how this trend may play itself out politically.  One would expect that Democrats, being the allegedly liberal party, will reap the benefits of this greater tolerance on social issues. And the nascent force in the GOP, the libertarians, might also expect to gain some political salience within the party if certain professional pols decide there is some electoral advantage to adopting a less hardcore approach. (The Christian right, which makes up a much larger percentage of Republican voters, may have something to say about that.)

In fact,  this trend toward “liberalism” should inexorably lead toward more liberal politics. But again, one has to wonder how the word is defined. If it’s defined strictly as a movement for social progress, then things are looking up for liberals. But if you define it more broadly in terms of economic justice then it may not be quite so clear. Take a look at that first graph again and you’ll see that the other line is economic issues, which also shows a shrinkage from the high of a 34-point advantage in 2010 down to a “mere” 21-point advantage today, so I wouldn’t start kissing random nurses in Times Square just yet …

Here’s how Gallup blithely describes it:

Conservatives maintain a healthy advantage on economic issues, so if more Americans ever do come to view themselves as economic liberals than as economic conservatives, it would not be anytime soon.

Sadly, they are probably right. The conservative economic dogma is so fully inculcated within the body politic that it’s going to be a very heavy lift to wake most people up to the fact that not only is conservative economic ideology depriving them of the security and opportunity they would otherwise have, but liberals also have to educate people that those conservative ideas aren’t actually liberal. After all, it’s all they’ve heard from their leaders, including Democrats for years.

And then there is the problem of money in politics, which is creating more incentives to adopt conservative economic policies than ever before, and you have a daunting task to get this government to enact progressive economic policies. With members of both parties basically prostrating themselves before billionaires (and the billionaires proudly calling the shots).

And that’s where the social issues come in. Just as the right has successfully used social issues to keep the GOP base from straying on economics, so too can the Democrats do this now. Gone are the days when a presidential candidate felt compelled to “Sistah Soljah” the base.  Today they need to embrace their party’s diversity and thank goodness for that.  But you can already see the contours of a new argument in which the Democratic Party holds itself out as the protector of LGBT rights, single child-rearing and perhaps gun proliferation, which are hugely important issues in the daily lives of real people. And they will promise to continue to fight the good fight on women’s rights, racism and nativism and none of those things can ever be negotiable. But they will also use that as an excuse to “compromise” on economics, sagely advising the liberal carpers that they can’t have it all — as if it’s a zero sum game between social and economic justice.  It isn’t.  They are two sides of the same coin and liberals should never separate them.

The Rev. Martin Luther King spoke to this most eloquently:

If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.”

The principle underlying the concepts of social and economic justice are the same. And liberals are going to have to ensure that the power structure doesn’t use the one to thwart the other or neither will be truly achieved. Progress is being made and that’s a wonderful thing. But it would be a big mistake to rest easy. There’s much more to be done.

Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...