Is the Democratic Party the New Home for Conservatives?


philly-city-hall-flagI think I found the bright side to Donald Trump. This election has left Conservatism as the only political philosophy not really represented. Even the Bernie Bros have a lot of their biggest concerns represented in the newly minted Democratic Party platform. But real Conservatives? Who speaks for them?

I (and others) am starting to think it’s the Democratic Party.

People keep talking about how this Donald Trump candidacy is reshuffling traditional party allegiances into  a never-before-seen arrangement. And yet, watching the Democratic National Convention speeches last night from Tim Kaine, Joe Biden, and especially Barack Obama, it looks like a reemergence of the blue collar, Southern Democrat.

Maybe, rather than a reshuffling, there is a course correction: a return to politics as it was prior to Nixon, Goldwater, and Johnson. Perhaps (dare I say?) this is actually a moment for normalization of American politics?

I say this because the Convention speeches last night were fundamentally Conservative in their outlook, substance, and philosophy. See below (additional highlights here):

Conservatism at its core is less about specific policies and more about a general outlook promoting personal responsibility and empowering smaller units of communities and institutions to work. (This is why the healthcare “Individual Mandate” originally came out of Conservative think-tanks: they saw it as a way to facilitate personal responsibility among citizens.)

This is not Donald Trump’s view. As President Obama brilliantly pointed out, Republicans have substituted “Big Government” for “Big Donald”. Whereas they repudiate liberal views that make government the source of power, change, and action, they embrace an individual who says that he is that source.

In Donald’s own Convention speech, after laying out his caricatured post-apocalyptic vision of America, he literally said, “I alone can fix it.” Is this not the very same perspective that Conservatives caricature Liberals for thinking about Government? (“Government alone can fix it.”)

What was striking, however, was that Mr. Obama’s speech actually contained phrases like “personal responsibility”, “self-government”, and others that express the idea that government’s role is more about empowering individuals and communities than forcing technocratic solutions down everyone’s throats.

(On a side note, though: I’d prefer technocratic solutions over demagogic ones any day.)

The beauty here is that many of the tent-pole policies Hillary is putting on the front-burner (paid family leave, affordable public college, criminal justice reform) are about building local communities, empowering individuals, and creating more opportunity for people to move themselves up the social ladder by the sweat of their own brow. These are decidedly Conservative emphases, at least for the past few decades.

What about Social Issues?

This is a unique opportunity for Democrats to create a big tent and model the kind of diverse and pluralistic vision they give lip-service to on a regular basis. But there is a danger here: social issues.

It is telling that Obama and Biden’s blue-collar Conservative sounding speeches said little to nothing referring to social issues. This is where those potential Conservative allies get lost when Democrats speak. One speaker at the DNC yesterday got a standing ovation when recounting her decision to get an abortion. Is it possible for someone to support the legal right for women to choose abortion, while still seeing it as a tragedy to lament, and not a time for exuberant celebration? What happened to the Clintons’ desire to see abortion be “safe, legal, and rare”?

Is there space in the Democratic party for a Pro-Life Conservative who resonates with so much of what he’s been hearing in Philly this week? For those that are apprehensive about redefining marriage, dramatically changing our economy over climate change, or are genuinely concerned about religious conscience in the next Presidential term: what sort of welcome do they have to vote for Ms. Clinton this Fall?

To Progressives, I say this: you talk a good game on “tolerance” and “diversity”. What are the limits of that within your party? You seem to have much diversity on external factors and personal identities, but not political opinions. Why must ones views on capital gains taxes, foreign policy, or climate necessarily have implications on social, moral, and religious issues? Where is their room for diversity in that? You would have much more buy-in from Republicans-in-Exile if there was flexibility here.

To Conservatives, I would say this: in the end, no Presidential candidate’s entire platform becomes a reality. That is the brilliant mess of our balance of powers. What we are voting for in November is less about the exact set of policies someone is proposing and more about the general direction their proposed policies speak to.

If that’s the case, then not only is the Democratic Platform the most clearly Conservative choice in this election, but the social issues that might give someone pause are unlikely to become a full reality–even if Ms. Clinton wins.

The point is that Ms. Clinton’s most “radical” proposals won’t likely get through the House and Senate, and she has a long history of compromising and working with all parties involved to get things done. Further, the proposals that realistically would come to fruition can equally serve Conservative goals just as much as Progressive ones.

If you are really worried about a Clinton Presidency, then by all means, vote Hillary for President and then Republican down the rest of the party ballot. But if you care anything for Conservative values, principles, and vision for society, I genuinely think the Democrats are your only home this year.

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