Helping Women Get What They Want
As the Republican nomination contest slogs through a messy endgame, President Obama's re-elect numbers are soaring, especially among women. So what is the Republican problem with women, and what do women want? NRO asked this question and discovered that women want to be secure and protected; liberal Joan Walsh discovered that women want liberal programs -- to be safe and secure.
Conservative women, presumably, get to feel safe and secure if the government protects marriage, families, neighborhoods, and nation. Liberal women, we assume, get to feel secure if they have government-mandated health care and the ability to fight back against sexists. What is going on here?
Women may all want safety and protection, and men may all want freedom from tyranny, but we disagree about how to get there -- about the social norms needed to create the just and protective society.
There are two ways to get humans, the social animals, to conform to social norms. You can use social control, the influence of public opinion, exploiting the human need to be well-thought-of by other humans. Or you can use police control, the apparatus of police and government, and use force to get people to fall into line. Conservatives and liberals prefer different combinations of social control and police control.
In the economic sector, conservatives practice the faith of the Invisible Hand. Conservatives believe that most people are motivated to do the right thing in business because they can best serve their own interest by serving others with good products and services. Liberals practice the faith of the clunking fist. They know that businessmen are just waiting for a chance to go rogue unless restrained by comprehensive and mandatory economic regulation.
Conservatives believe that lower-class young men are virtual outlaws and need to be suppressed by an active police presence. Liberals believe that crime is a consequence of poverty and that police power will solve nothing.
Conservatives believe in freedom, but they also believe that community standards should limit pornography and obscenity. Liberals believe in free speech but believe that "hate speech" should be criminalized. Last week, liberals complained about the racism in an article by conservative John Derbyshire and got him fired; last week, conservatives complained about NBC's invidious editing of a 911 tape and got an NBC producer fired. The result? Liberals can still enforce what you are not allowed to say about race, but they did get a little egg on their faces for betraying their advertised commitment to objective journalism.
You can see what is going on. Despite the fact that politics is a rehearsal for government force, politicians often fight their battles out on the social control front. In many ways, it is better political strategy to control the culture and the political conversation by naming and shaming rather than by the brute force of nightsticks and police power. Thus, political generals flexibly switch between between the power of shame and the power of the state. One power is the naming of good and evil; the other is the power of might is right.
Politicians know that if you dominate the culture, you can control what is allowed to be thought and said. If you control what is thought and said, you control what is done and not done. Without social control, you must revert to police control -- a very blunt instrument. This has been played out rather clearly in the sexual revolution.
The sexual revolution was supposed to end the social control of sexuality and the stigmatization of sexual freedom. So why has it been necessary in the last half-century to enact a forest of laws to criminalize sexual harassment and violence against women? Is it really progress to regress to police control of sexual relations rather than social control?
Here we are, going into the presidential race with each side using social control techniques to the best of its ability so that both can control the political conversation over the summer. Can President Obama slam the Supreme Court, or will Americans recoil in moral horror? Can Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) dare to reform Medicare, or is he a social Darwinist tipping Grannie over a cliff?
President Obama and his lieutenants obviously think that their cultural power enables them to name and shame the opposition -- on sex, on race, on entitlements. But then you remember what Rush Limbaugh has said for years about liberals calling plays out of a thirty-year-old playbook, and you wonder: how smart are those guys, really?
Through it all, you never forget that it all ends up with what independent female voters want on Election Day. If conservatives can't persuade them that it is better to be protected by the social control of church and family and reputation over the police control of government programs and bureaucrats, then we need to go back to political boot camp.
Christopher Chantrill is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his usgovernmentspending.com and also usgovernmentdebt.us. At americanmanifesto.org he is blogging and writing An American Manifesto: Life After Liberalism.