One of the key figures in the social conservative political revival in the U.S., and in the election and re-election of President George W. Bush, brought his formula for success to Canada recently, in the hopes that some his accomplishments south of the border would rub off in this country.
Ralph Reed, the former head of the influential Christian Coalition who has worked on seven U.S. presidential campaigns, spoke during the Canadian Values Conference, staged by the nascent Institute for Canadian Values at Canada Christian College in Toronto Nov. 29 – Dec. 1. Reed served as a senior adviser to the Bush campaign in 2000 and as the president’s southeast campaign chair in 2004. Greeted with a standing ovation, he told the crowd in Toronto that the recipe for social conservative success in the political sphere is not “rocket science” and emphasized two simple planks in the process – a commitment to unabashed social conservatism and grassroots activism.
“Grassroots works every single time and it will work in Canada,” he stressed. However, he noted that people tend to shy away from such work because it is hard and unglamorous. It means the difficult, plodding tasks of knocking on doors, driving people to polls, one-to-one campaigning and so on. People would rather eschew that and just show up for the victory party.
Yet the grassroots work yields results. Reed recounted how, by using that paradigm, he and his Bush co-workers successfully endeavoured to recruit 1.4 million volunteers, who in turn brought in 10.5 million new voters to the Bush camp. His efforts as southeast campaign chair for Bush in 2004, meanwhile, won the Georgia governorship for the Republican party for the first time in 130 years.
Did the Bush strategists do it by soft-peddling social conservatism, as is often the case in Canada? No, they did the opposite, so befuddling the elites who thought that a politician couldn’t possibly win as important a position as the presidency on such a platform. In 2000, in fact, the media were predicting a Bush loss by five million votes.
Yet, “We did better among every constituency,” said Reed. “The ‘gender gap’ went from 16 points in 1996, when we were soft-peddling these issues … to a four-point gender gap in 2004.” Significant gains were made among Hispanic and Catholic voters, even though Bush, a Methodist, ran against a nominal Catholic, John Kerry.
“The reason why we won was … we ran unapologetically and boldly on a conservative, pro-family platform,” he said to enthusiastic applause from his listeners. He added that when a politician runs on a social conservative platform, he is not simply “preaching to the choir,” but appealing to every constituency, because such values are held commonly by people of every background.
“It’s a mainstream, common sense set of values,” he said, adding that those principles are anchored by five key points: an emphasis on personal responsibility; the honour and preservation of traditional marriage; the strengthening of the loving, intact family; the maximization of individual freedom and liberty; and a commitment to human and civil rights for every individual.
So why do politicians not always run on a social conservative platform? “They’re intimidated by the opposition and by personal attacks,” answered Reed. Add to that a media chorus that perpetuates the mantra that “you can’t win on social conservative values” and candidates with weak backbones tend to whimper away.
“But you can win!” exclaimed Reed, who pointed to the example of socially conservative former U.S. president Ronald Reagan, who overcame advanced age, a hostile Hollywood environment and even the humungous Communist bloc in achieving a place in the pantheon of great U.S. presidents. “History is not static,” said Reed. “It can change … you don’t have to accept it the way it is.”
He concluded by giving social conservative Canadians a four-point action plan as they go into the campaign for the federal election Jan. 23: build a strong grassroots organization that will touch every single voter; train workers to be effective; set achievable goals and constantly monitor them; and turn out the vote on election day by “flushing” people out of their homes and driving them to polling stations, if necessary.
“Get on your work boots and tennis shoes,” he urged. “Let’s usher in the greatest victory in the history of this (Canadian) country!” The crowd once again gave him a standing ovation.
Reed’s address capped three days of events at the Canadian Values Conference, which saw sessions led by speakers including Canada Christian College president Charles McVety, Canada Family Action Coalition executive director Brian Rushfeldt, Phil Horgan of the Catholic Civil Rights League, REAL Women vice president Gwen Landolt, Campagne Quebec Vie president Luc Gagnon, Senator Anne Cools, Equipping Christians for the Public Square executive director Tristan Emmanuel and Canadian Coalition for Democracies executive director Naresh Raghubeer. They and others looked at issues such as tax policy and the radical social agenda, judicial activism, foreign policy, mobilizing people of faith and working with the media.
The Institute for Canadian Values was founded last March as a national think-tank dedicated to advancing knowledge of public policy issues from Judeo-Christian intellectual and moral perspectives, as well as promoting awareness of how such perspectives contribute to a modern, free and democratic society.