16 March 2009

Shelby Steele: The GOP & Minority Outreach

One of the panel discussions I attended at CPAC dealt with creating a conservative Hispanic coalition. Widely discussed were the many commonalities shared by traditional social conservatives and largely Catholic Hispanic minorities. On every issue--life, family, marriage--Hispanic minorities share the values of conservatives everywhere.

In fact, Hispanic Americans are more socially conservative than their white counterparts (that is, when you consider all white Americans together). Partnerships, at a minimum, based on these principles and shared goals seems like an obvious starting point.

But, of course, immigration raised its ugly head. I won't get into it here--it deserves its own series of posts--but I believe there is a workable solution to this problem, I'm just not entirely sure what it is.

The Conservative argument for resisting minority outreach/appeal is that we don't want to get into the grievance tribalism that afflicts the Left. We are not a party that promises a grab bag of goodies & favors if only your group helps us get elected. We are a party of principles--principles which we believe ought to appeal to people regardless of their race, gender, religion, whatever.

For the record, I believe that, 100%. One of conservatism's great promises is that it promises to view every individual the same way--it seeks the freedom of every individual.

However, within that framework, I believe there is ample room, ample opportunity, to form coalitions that seek common goals. If Hispanics are socially conservative, we can appeal to them with the principles of social conservatism. We cannot assume (wrongly, I believe) that these people somehow know that we see the world the same way they do and seek the same things they seek.

We can appeal to some of these groups without becoming tribal or abandoning our principles. We can and ought to reach out to them by using our principles and showing them how they apply in their lives and are shared by them and us.

In todays WSJ, Shelby Steele examines this question--Why the GOP can't win minorities. It is the most lucid discussion of this topic I have read in a long time. Read it all; here is an excerpt:
When redemption became a term of power, "redemptive liberalism" was born -- a new activist liberalism that gave itself a "redemptive" profile by focusing on social engineering rather than liberalism's classic focus on individual freedom. In the '60s there was no time to allow individual freedom to render up the social good. Redemptive liberalism would proactively engineer the good. Name a good like "integration," and then engineer it into being through a draconian regimen of school busing. If the busing did profound damage to public education in America, it gave liberals the right to say, "At least we did something!" In other words, we are activists

against America's old sin of segregation. Activism is moral authority in redemptive liberalism.

But conservatism sees moral authority more in a discipline of principles than in activism. It sees ideas of the good like "diversity" as mere pretext for the social engineering that always leads to unintended and oppressive consequences. Conservatism would enforce the principles that ensure individual freedom, and then allow "the good" to happen by "invisible hand."

And here is conservatism's great problem with minorities. In an era when even failed moral activism is redemptive -- and thus a source of moral authority and power -- conservatism stands flat-footed with only discipline to offer. It has only an invisible hand to compete with the activism of the left. So conservatism has no way to show itself redeemed of America's bigoted past, no way like the Great Society to engineer a grand display of its innocence, and no way to show deference to minorities for the oppression they endured. Thus it seems to be in league with that oppression.

Socially engineering society in order to assuage one's own guilt does not "redeem" the people you are trying to save (indeed, the unintended consequences of your shiny new program often worsen their condition), it is all about making yourself feel better.

Anyway, read the rest. You'll be pleased to find that Steele does not suggest some convoluted hybrid of leftist tribal politics blended with conservative principle.

If you have tips, questions, comments or suggestions, email me at lybberty@gmail.com.