Sheldon Adelson: Put aside social conservativism to reclaim America

I promise that this post will be about what Sheldon Adelson had to say in an interview with Alana Goodman of Commentary Magazine.  Before I get there, though, I need to begin with a little story of my own.

Readers of my newsletter know that I had lunch last week with seven other conservative women here in Marin.  We had all found each other more or less by accident, not because any of us in Marin have proudly worn our conservativism in the open (our kids would be ostracized if we did), but because we listened for the little clues in their words that hinted at a conservative orientation.  We then risked exposing ourselves by asking, “Uh, are you by any chance  . . . um, you know, conserva-mumble, mumble, mumble?”

That shyness, of course, was before the last election.  Since the 2012 election, we’ve all made a vow to each other to be more open about our political identity and to challenge liberals who lead with unfounded conclusions that demonize conservatives and their beliefs or that confer saintly virtues on Obama and his cadre.

Interestingly, the eight of us were a microcosm of conservative views, ranging from fiscally conservative but socially liberal conservatives all the way to both fiscally and socially conservatives.  Our common denominator, of course, was fiscal conservativism. Dig deeper, and there were two other common denominators:  an abiding belief in the Constitution’s continued relevance to modern America and a fierce devotion to individual liberty.

Where we differed was (a) gay marriage and (b) abortion.  With regard to abortion, we did have one overarching point of agreement, which was that abortion is not a federal issue and should therefore be returned to the states.  When it came to gay marriage, all of us were willing to recognize gay unions, but we differed about whether the answer is to declare gay marriage the law of the land or, instead, to preserve marriage for religious institutions, while making civil unions across the board (both straight and gay) the law of the land.  As regular readers know, I hew to the second view, which acknowledges human relationships and state goals, without interfering in any way with religious freedom.

I walked away from the lunch realizing as clearly as I ever have that the strong fiber weaving us together is fiscal conservativism and individual liberty.  The frayed strands at the edges are what are commonly called “social issues.”

The Democrats, recognizing that the quickest way to shred a piece of fabric is to tear at the frayed edges, rather than to try to destroy the sturdy center, worked hard during the election to blow the gay-marriage and abortion dog whistles.  As the race in Missouri showed, social conservativism is a political landmine that routinely explodes in the face of struggling Republican candidates.  Todd Akin could have won that race if he hadn’t been asked about abortion.  When thinking about Akin’s repulsive and misinformed answer, which provided a solid Progressive rallying cry, don’t forget Richard Mourdock. His experience proves that, even if Akin had given a principled pro-Life answer, he still would have been pilloried and destroyed.

I’m a big believer that, when it comes to social issues, culture drives politics, rather than politics driving culture.  For the past forty years, social liberals have been planted very firmly in the driver’s seat.  They have infiltrated both media and education, which has given them the chance to shape a generation’s social views.  They have sensitized this generation’s ears so that the dog whistles most people under 55 hear the loudest aren’t “debt” or “fiscal cliff” or “responsibility,” but are, instead, “women haters,” “homophobes” and “racists.”

What this cultural transformation means is that, in the short term, conservatives can win on the fiscal side (and, possibly, on the individual liberties side) because people haven’t been deafened by decades of dog whistles on those subjects.  Until we take back the culture, though, which we do exactly the same way the Left did — namely, a slow march through the culture — we will invariably lose on social issues.  Significantly as the most recent election shows, losing on social issues inevitably means losing on all issues.

Now, finally, have established my premise about the way in which social issues invariably play against conservatives in national elections, I can get to Sheldon Adelson’s interview in Commentary Magazine.  For purposes of this essay, Sheldon Adelson is important for three reasons.  First, he is a conservative who is willing to put his money where his mouth is (unlike Warren Buffet, a true-to-form liberal who wants to put other people’s money where his mouth is).  The second reason Adelson is important is that, after his emergence as a money-player in this election, the Left has worked as hard to demonize him as they did to demonize the Koch Brothers and Mitt Romney.  And the third reason is that Sheldon Adelson agrees with me that conservatives cannot win on social issues:

For someone whose name and face were a regular staple of the election coverage, the public does have many misconceptions about Adelson. His liberal social views rarely received media attention during the campaign season, though he’s certainly never hidden them.

“See that paper on the wall?” he asked, gesturing toward a poster with rows of names on it. “That is a list of some of the scientists that we give a lot of money to conduct collaborative medical research, including stem cell research. What’s wrong if I help stem cell research? I’m all in favor. And if somebody wants to have an abortion, let them have an abortion,” he said.


Adelson has not said whether he will use his influence to try to change the GOP internally. But he does believe social issues cost the Republicans the last election.

“If we took a softer stance on those several issues, social issues, that I referred to, then I think that we would have won the most recent election,” he said. “I think people got the impression that Republicans didn’t care about certain groups of people.”

You should definitely read the whole interview.

Adelson is precisely what my self-admitted conservative friends are:  fiscally conservative, socially fairly liberal, very receptive to legal immigration (because a nation, for health, national security, and economic reasons should control its own borders), and supportive of Israel.  What’s funny, though, is that Adelson is also pretty close in actual outlook to all the upscale, white collar liberals I know who reflexively vote Democrat because of the conservative issues.  These people are also fiscally conservative in their own lives; they what their country safe and fiscally sound for their children; they like immigrants but recognize that illegal immigrants pose risks both for American citizens and legal, Green Card immigrants; and they like Israel’s values.

The problem at the ballot box is that, after forty years of Leftist indoctrination, these educated liberals are unable to harmonize their values with their politics.  Despite recognizing the wisdom of fiscal management in their own homes, they think a state can survive indefinitely by spending more than it takes in; despite training their children in self-reliance, they believe that we should destroy self-reliance in “the poor”; despite believing that people should be able to protect themselves and their homes, they are embarrassed when their country tries to defend itself; and despite admiring a pluralist, democratic society, which is what Israel is, they bemoan the plight of the poor Palestinians who have allowed their (now sovereign) territory to devolve in a crazy mix of anarchism and Islamic fundamentalism.

What makes this cognitive dissonance possible for white collar liberals is their unswerving allegiance to unlimited abortions and (of late) to gay marriage. Just as fiscal conservativism, the Constitution, and individual freedom bind conservatives of all stripes together, so too do abortion and gay marriage (with a soupçon of illegal immigration) bind together Progressives of all stripes.  We cannot entice Progressives to fiscal conservativism if we insist on a purity test for abortion and gay marriage.  It’s just not going to happen.  And here’s the kicker:  abortion and gay marriage become moot issues if our nation collapses entirely under the weight of debt or if our walls our breached by Islamists or if we become “tuberculosis central” because we cannot assert even a modicum of polite control over our borders.

As a parent, I hew socially conservative, so those are values I want to advance.  But I’m a pragmatist who recognizes that the ballot box isn’t the place to make it happen.  The ballot box is how we manage issues of sovereignty (including national security and border control) and fiscal health.  Our social institutions are where we make headway on social issues.  If we can keep those lines from crossing, we can be a resurgent conservative political party and, eventually, a somewhat more traditional America, one that preserves the best and healthiest social policies of the past and the present.


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  • Earl

    Doug1943: Posing extreme alternatives and pretending that they’re the only ones available isn’t the best way to engage in discussion.  Reasonable people can easily imagine something between abortion on demand and charging every woman who aborts with murder.
    Some folk have suggested that women are victims in most cases, and it is the “provider” who should be charged with homicide.  I can see some light in this, but would want to talk about it before buying in.
    Since pregnancy involves a (small, but not insignificant) risk to the mother’s life, anyone impregnated against their will (rape or incest) has a “self-defense” claim to an abortion.  It’s true that the child is an innocent, but the state should not be given the power to force the mother to risk her life if she decides not to offer succour to the infant she carries, if it was conceived as the result of force against her will. 
    If abortion were recognized for what it is – the killing of an innocent human being, then the “morning after pill” would presumably not be offered for sale.  Preventing conception is not homicide, but that’s not what the “morning after pill” is intended to do.
    We’re discussing this in the comment section of a blog.  Doesn’t it seem silly to imagine that we’re going to be able to suggest laws that cover every case that might come up in real life? It does to me, and the above is only to demonstrate that the pro-life position is not the caricature that you’ve gotten somewhere.

  • gkong3

    @Ymarsakar: You are most likely correct in that I do not understand the true nature of the problem.
    I am a Christian and neither reside nor am a citizen of the USA; hence, I do not pretend to understand the dynamics of the situation there. I do recognise the polemic the Left uses revolves around emotion (the right to choose), and that there may even be a eugenics slant deep within the pro-abortionist lobby (I don’t know if I necessarily swallow that, but I recognise the argument).
    So, for me, the argument that the unborn child is indisputably a human life, and furthermore, a helpless human life, with its only protection *other* humans, therefore resonates all the most. I see the legal framework (to treat abortion as a homicide) as a necessary evil. Let’s be honest, other forms of homicide can strike at our enlightened immediate self-interest – it can happen to *me* – whether any individual actually believes it *might* happen to him or not. Abortion *cannot* strike at our immediate self-interest, because it quite literally can’t happen to me any more.
    I welcome your correcting my preconceptions, though.
    @Earl: Hmm, not sure about the ‘pregnant against my will’ defence. Primarily, that would be like shooting every German Shepherd, Doberman, Alsatian and wolfhound on sight, on the (slight but not insignificant) off-chance that they might be rabid and/or attack and kill me. Yes, only 30-odd deaths occur from dogs annually, as opposed to nearly 20x that from pregnancy-related issues, but still.

  • Earl

    gkong3: I don’t get the analogy about shooting the dogs.
    To attempt a clarification of my earlier comment, there’s been a “famous violinist problem” around for some time.  The idea being that you’re snatched off the street and wake up with your circulatory system connected to someone in the next bed.  It’s explained that the guy is a very ill world-famous violinist with your exact blood type, and only the connection with you is keeping him alive.  All it will take is nine months of the connection and then he’ll be fine.  What do you do?
    This is supposed to be analogous to a pregnancy…..and for a woman who is raped, it’s close, at least.  I can see that one might go ahead and take the risk for nine months to save the other person (the violinist, or the unborn baby).  Some Christians might say that one has a moral obligation to do so, but I’m not talking about that — my concern is with whether the State can legitimately require you to risk your life in either of these situations, when the situation was forced on you against your will.
    My answer is “No, we should not give the State that power.”
    Someone who is pregnant by a voluntary (even if regretted, later) act of intercourse has taken a risk of becoming pregnant, even if she was “trying” not to conceive.  Refraining from intercourse is the only sure bet, something that everyone knows.  If a baby is conceived, and the parents are unhappy about that, they cannot be allowed to kill the child if the State is really going to protect the defenseless against the more powerful.

  • gkong3

    @Earl: I get what you’re saying.
    My point is this. The risk to the mother of a pregnancy (even an ectopic one) is one that can be seen far, far ahead before it actually poses a real danger. To abort a child under normal circumstances, therefore, is a pre-emptive measure. It would be similar to me pre-emptively shooting any large dog on sight, simply because they could go nuts and attack me, even if they pose no threat to me at the moment.
    Using that rather contrived ‘famous violinist’ problem, what if the person you’re connected to had nothing to do with your being connected to him? He didn’t ask for it, he wasn’t expecting it, he didn’t say anything that could lead others to reasonably expect he wanted this outcome. In other words, he’s as blameless as you are, just snatched off to have this done to him as well.
    Should you have the right to be able to choose terminating his existence? Which is what you’re doing, because through no fault of his own, he’s entirely dependent on your goodwill for his continued life.
    It’s a contrived problem because in his case, he was going to die anyway. But an unborn child isn’t. The medical treatment is artificially imposed. Pregnancy is a natural biological process. One could argue that disconnecting your circulatory system is returning things to status quo; pregnancy is the status quo. Also, however you look at it, the Founders of the USA and the Framers of the Constitution used Biblical morality as a guideline to create the laws of the land.

  • Earl

    gkong3:  I suspect that you and I would have very little disagreement if we were to sit and chat a bit.
    I completely agree with you that the “life of the mother” exception is mainly a red herring.  The experts in the field claim that the odds of needing to kill the child to save the mother’s life are statistically indistinguishable from zero.  It *is* true that some procedures or treatments of the mother will put the child at risk, and may even cause its death – that’s not the same thing as saying “Oh, I’m sick!  I need an abortion.”
    Pregnancies as a result of rape or incest are very rare.  I don’t know the number, although perhaps measured in hundreds/thousands each year.  We agree that the child is blameless and innocent.  If it were anyone I cared for and had a right to input, I would urge them (including wife – when that was possible – or daughter, which is more currently real) to carry the baby.  Better for everyone concerned, in the long run.
    My objection is to giving the State the power to force the mother to carry a child, and risk her life, when the conception was not at her volition, and perhaps even against her resistance.  I understand the arguments against my position, and there is some justice in them….but (so far, at least) I’m not convinced.
    The “famous violinist” analogy is very contrived, and like all analogies, it fails if pushed too far.  Suffice it to say that while I can easily construct a moral case for choosing to give the violinist life, I would NEVER use the State to force someone to do so.  Think of the real-world possibilities!  Forced kidney donation is one that’s being discussed, right now.  When the State “owns” the citizens, lots of interesting things are possible.  I will oppose that until I no longer have breath.

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