Social Conservatives and the Rise of Political Misdirection

Oluwa Jones '15

Assistant Opinions Editor

The current governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, is now considering a 2016 run for the presidency. His neoliberal policies of union busting and privatization have crippled Wisconsin’s economy. The Republicans’ vision for what constitutes good government continues to fail, yet the party continues to gain public support and momentum. In recent years, GOP political contenders have moved farther to the right, despite all the the party has done wrong. For example, Republicans continue to rely heavily on the theory of supply-side economics. Any credible economist would argue that tax cuts for the wealthy will not fix the economy or decrease the deficit. Instead, these policies have led to inflation and high interest rates.

Another top GOP contender is Jeb Bush, whose father, George Bush, served one unexceptional term as president and whose brother, George W. Bush, is considered by many to be the worst president in modern times. After serving as governor of Florida, Jeb Bush became a consultant for Lehman Brothers, who then immediately went bust, leaving Florida with about $1 billion worth of bad mortgage investments. Bush still has a shot at the presidency because our current political climate favors ideology over everything; facts, familial associations and even bad governance don’t matter as long as one holds onto conservative rhetoric.

This is due in part to a culture war. Individuals like Scott Walker and Jeb Bush have mobilized voters around cultural issues rather than objectivity or facts. Factors such as labor unions, climate change and the fact that Obamacare never failed don’t matter. These issues have come to represent groups middle class Americans don’t like. Groups such as Liberal Elitists are seen as a threat to their way of life.

In the book “What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America,” journalist and historian Thomas Frank traces the rise of modern conservatism. The main goal of the GOP is to cut taxes and increase deregulation. Their policies are almost entirely economic, yet they use the fears of social conservatives to hide their real agenda. Despite the failure of supply-side economics and privatization as well as the economic crisis caused by deregulating Wall Street, voters still choose social issues over facts. What does it say about American politics that citizens are forced to choose between prayer in schools or larger class sizes? Promises to repeal abortion legislation or expand medicaid? Why are voters are made to choose between fiscal conservatism and marriage equality?

Because of social conservative deflection, political candidates are never held accountable. Scott Brown’s governorship was largely a failure, yet has only made Republicans stronger. Failure demonstrates the strength of their imagined opponents, the straw man embodied by the wealthy elitist, with big plans to take religion out of politics. No matter how ignominious their records are, conservatives still gets points for using recycled rhetoric. Individuals like Walker and Jeb Bush continue to succeed regardless of their records because they portray themselves as defenders of the status quo.