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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Political Ambiguity: Social conservatism, Republicans, crime and drugs


The Republican party lies at the center of social conservatism in America. Or, at least that’s what it seems. To figure out if the GOP stands true to its reputation, we must define social conservatism and its beliefs toward drugs and crime.

Model social conservatives are often critical of the rapid changes within our society, calling for a more pragmatic approach toward 21st-century developments. They are not necessarily against any and all change, but rather they encourage the preservation of values and beliefs that have been a part of our society for so long.

British journalist Peter Hitchens is a wonderful representation of the social right. He feels that Britain’s culture and values have been destroyed in the last 50 years by government policymaking that deliberately engineers societal change. Although not all social conservatives write with Hitchen’s obituary-like tone, they do all ask for a solemn analysis of the speedy change occurring around us. They ask people to question why something should be altered, and what would be lost from changing our actions or beliefs. Hitchens calls for retaining essential parts of our society that, despite being antiquated, keep civilization standing. Social conservatism should not be confused with reactionary beliefs like reintroducing segregation. They are more concerned with preserving, rather than reinstituting, old policies.

Within the Republican Party, many social conservatives call for a greater focus on punishing drug dealers and enforcing existing laws, especially ones that deal with cannabis and other narcotics. According to a study from the Pew Research Center, about 65 percent of conservative-leaning Republicans are against marijuana legalization, compared to 59 percent of Republicans overall. Support for keeping marijuana criminalized is a key priority of social conservatives who feel threatened by recent policy changes regarding the drug. Legalization comes into direct conflict with many of these conservatives who hold the attitude that drugs are immoral.

An increased drive to rehabilitate criminals, rather than punish them, is an example of a changing social attitude that some wholeheartedly oppose. Many social conservatives believe criminals cannot be rehabilitated and that society would be best if they received greater punishment for their misdeeds.

The Republican party continues to uphold its ties with social conservatism, especially in respect to drugs and crime. The GOP takes into account the strength of their socially right support base. But recent developments in social attitudes have led to calls to the party to change or tone down its stance on many issues. While the electorate and the party are definitely not as socially conservative as they were in the 80s, we can only wait and see if Republicans will continue to challenge progressive ideas like marijuana legalization or criminal rehabilitation.

You can reach JUSTIN CHAU at jtchau@ucdavis.edu. Feel free to email me any thoughts you may have about this column or previous ones.


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