The Heart of American Exceptionalism

The Case for Polarized Politics: Why America Needs Social Conservatism Jeffrey BellEncounter Books, 2012; 322 pages, $25.95 For the past twenty years, the conventional wisdom espoused in Republican circles, by establishment types and by many who consider themselves conservative, is that candidates who want to win elections should avoid getting sidetracked into “divisive” social issues. While Democrats aggressively push their liberal social platform through all three branches of government, Republicans seeking public office are admonished to focus on “pocketbook” issues. The Wall Street Journal, for example, often expressed displeasure with the chief challenger to Mitt Romney for the GOP presidential nomination this year, Rick Santorum, for not keeping tax policy and economic growth front and center. This bias against social issues, as well as cluelessness to the interaction between social and economic issues, also explains why party bosses and elected officials have remained virtually silent on state constitutional initiatives, which have succeeded in all thirty states where they have been placed on the ballot, that prevent the courts or legislatures from changing the legal definition of marriage as the natural union between one man and one woman. GOP-veteran Jeffrey Bell has no patience for such nonsense. In The Case for Polarized Politics, a former campaign and policy advisor to Ronald Reagan and 1978 Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate representing New Jersey advances a compelling argument that social conservatism is absolutely indispensable to Republican election prospects. He points out how GOP presidential triumphs in 1984, 1988, 2000, and especially 2004 had much to do with the victors skillfully addressing social-conservative themes—while the GOP defeats of 1992, 1996, and 2008 featured nominees who embraced the “big tent” theory of diluting social-issue differences with their Democratic counterparts. Yet Bell is no political hac
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