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Dispatches from the Values Voter Summit: Needing a Nexus

September 18th, 2010 | 2 min read

By Andrew Walker

Events at Values Voter Summit 2010 have begun. As I write, I'm watching Newt Gingrich speak during the morning session on Saturday morning. It is not my intent to summarize yesterday's events inasmuch as it is to capture the ethos of the event.

Yesterday's events included Mike Huckabee, Jim Inhofe, Mike Pense, Michelle Bachmann, Mitt Romney, and in much expectation and media fervor, Christine O'Donnell.

The impression given by the American media is that the electorate is looking solely for economic remedies. For most in America, the economy is the issue.

This poses a problem for social conservatism which views itself as slowly being wedged out of priority; not removed from conservatism in general, but a feeling in which their agenda has been set aside by the lure of economic recovery.

The feeling at the Values Voter Summit is NOT one of despair, contrary to the opinions of the media elite. It's quite the opposite. Obama appears to have galvanized the social conservatism movement given the radical leftward shift his administration has taken.

And, as Ramesh Ponnuru has take paints to argue, don't count the social conservatives out. Indeed, the oft-quoted notion of being the "silent majority" is very relevant for the devotees of social conservatism.  And they've had enough.

What social conservatism has hinted at accomplishing, but not done enough, is fusing  a symbiotic relationship between economic and social conservatism. We must ask: Is there a nexus?

This is the impasse that social conservatives at the Value Voter's Summit face. It's an uphill battle. Attendees are not so naive as to believe that their issues are now at the absolute forefront of the Republican agenda, though present as they are; but I'm not convinced the social conservative movement holds a firm grasp on the economic peril that has emblazoned the Tea party.

We'll need to expand our lexicon and draw out the connections between economic and social conservatism.

Yet, it is here, on a larger scale, that the socia conservative movement can align itself very well with the us-versus-them mentality ensconced in the Tea Party. The assumed reality between both social conservatives and Tea Partiers is their supposed forced silencing by the "ruling elite." If there's any unanimous consensus between the two groups, it is the feeling of political neglect and political irrelevancy.

Whether an official third-party system arising is irrelevant, what is necessary for progress is a continued dialogue uniting economic and social conservatism. For this, I recommend reading Robert P. George's excellent article on Renewing the Powerful Alliance of Economic and Social Conservatism. If there's any "Roadmap" we need, social conservative needs this.

But there's a part of me that wants to question why social conservatives would want to capture and build upon the fervor of the economic concerns as expressed by the Tea Party. Do we need the angst of the Tea Party to help our platform? Or, as I would question, can we fuse an economic and social conservatism capable of bypassing the heated rhetoric?

I'll post more thoughts soon.

Andrew Walker

Andrew T. Walker is an Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.