Abandon the Social Issues

A lot of Republicans, reeling from Tuesday’s smash-up, are suggesting just that: give up on abortion or gay marriage, focus on economics and jobs.  There’s some evidence to support this strategy, but there’s also a lot that contradicts it.

A friend of mine, a Hollywood writer who wishes to remain anonymous, is a deeply conservative — and deeply depressed — Roman Catholic who lives in Los Angeles, is a hugely successful writer and  producer (translation: he’s got a lot of Emmys) put it this way in an email exchange we had this morning, in which both of us tackled the “social issue” issue:

I have no great love of social issues.  I would prefer to avoid them altogether.  My fear is that’s less possible now that social issues are increasingly becoming public policy.  It’s no longer okay to personally feel someway and avoid it in public debates because we pay for everything.  A desire to not pay for something equals opposition.

That seems like an interesting fault-line, and one that our side has had trouble articulating clearly.  It seems like even folks who are pro-abortion rights would agree that parental consent laws are necessary, and that no one should be forced to pay for a procedure they believe is infanticide.  I mean, right?  That should be an easy one for the American voter.

Or does Tuesday tell us the opposite?

  1. Astonishing

    Abortion is morally reprehensible, wholly unnatural to our humanity–both inhuman and anti-human, both physically and psychologically repellent. It savagely kills innocent babies. It is a shameful stain on American society, as bad as slavery, a holocaust.

    Abortion brings into question the very possibility of the goodness of Western culture. If the practice goes unopposed, then the question about the possibility of the goodness of Western culture will have been answered with a “No.”

    If civilized humanity survives long enough, it will look back upon our slaughter of the innocent, and wonder with horror and disgust, “How could they?”

    There are other issues I care deeply about–other social issues, fundamental issues of governance, economic issues, foreign policy issues–but I simply can’t vote for a politician who approves abortion or who would allow government support for abortion.

    As a political matter, I agree with those who say the issue is one that should be decided within each state under our federal system.

    But as a moral matter, I will not support any politician–local, state, federal, national, or international–who supports abortion.

    (I’m not Catholic. I’m not even religious. I do believe in God.)

  2. Western Chauvinist

    It’s that simple.

    Unfortunately, Republicans are pacifists in the battle of ideas (stolen from member Patrick Gibbs, as promised).

  3. Leigh

    Here’s the problem with abandoning the social issues: the social issues are the root of the problem.

    If you abandon the social issues, you might win a few more elections but anything you do with them will be temporary, because you’re contributing to the downgrading of the culture.  That doesn’t mean you don’t pick your battles — and your messaging!  “Legitimate rape”, seriously!  Republicans blew that one seriously this time around, and it bit them.

    Also, you have to look at the principles, the politics, and the polls on an issue-by-issue basis.

    Consider Great Britain.  Someone with Paul Ryan’s position on abortion, for instance, would probably not be able to win there; but the evidence is that abandoning the social issues altogether hasn’t helped the Tories much.

  4. Mel Foil

    I think the social conservatives (I consider myself one) can probably appreciate now that simply being allowed to opt out of the government policies that directly violate your religious conscience is a victory. Even that can no longer be taken for granted. It almost makes one appreciate Ron Paul. I guess that’s the other piece of the puzzle.

  5. Christopher Esget

    The social issues and the future of our society go hand in hand. If we look at abortion and homosexual “marriage,” you’re dealing with the foundations of human life. To abandon the social issues is to concede defeat not just politically, but as the human race. It’s mass suicide. That’s hyperbolic, but not by much.

    As much as I want and need the economy to improve, what does it profit a society to gain the whole world and lose its soul?

  6. Christopher Esget

    Well said. Why is it so hard to find someone who can articulate that?

    Todd:”and that no one should be forced to pay for a procedure they believe is infanticide”

    I was terribly frustrated with how the Obama campaign got away with convincing some voters that allowing employers to simply opt of out paying for contraception was somehow equivalent to supporting an outright ban on contraception.

    According to their logic, because my employer does not provide me with groceries, my employer is somehow denying me access to food.  

    Seriously, how did they get away with that?

    So I agree, a good candidate should be able to communicate to voters that those who want to force taxpayers and employers to provide contraception and pay for abortions against their will are the ones who are being “anti-choice” and “intolerant”.   · in 1 minute

  7. Todd

    “and that no one should be forced to pay for a procedure they believe is infanticide”

    I was terribly frustrated with how the Obama campaign got away with convincing some voters that allowing employers to simply opt of out paying for contraception was somehow equivalent to supporting an outright ban on contraception.

    According to their logic, because my employer does not provide me with groceries, my employer is somehow denying me access to food.  

    Seriously, how did they get away with that?

    So I agree, a good candidate should be able to communicate to voters that those who want to force taxpayers and employers to provide contraception and pay for abortions against their will are the ones who are being “anti-choice” and “intolerant”.  

  8. SMatthewStolte

    It’s hard for me to see good fruit coming from the question of whether to abandon social conservatism or not. It’s liable to make social conservatives defensive, and to make the Republican party pointless. 

    Now, maybe we could ask whether some pro-choicers should be welcomed into the Republican tent. Or whether the social conservative movement itself should undergo some sort of transformation. I think the latter is required, and the former should probably not be encouraged. 

    Here’s my guess on social conservatism: It will begin to win once it is able to go on the offensive. Social conservatives often frame their positions, and allow themselves to be framed, as backward-looking. 

    Let’s ‘reverse’ Roe v. Wade, ‘restore’ the American family, ‘restore’ civic life, and so on. 

    As long as they do this, they are going to seem destined to fail. Restoring the past isn’t just difficult. It is a metaphysical impossibility.

    Obama is able to take dead ideas and pass them off as forward-looking. Why can’t social conservatives do the same with their ideas?

  9. NGage

    I share the sentiments of your LA friend exactly…and I find that line of thinking in regards to social issues typical among creatives on the right. (I know — I am one of them. Lonely!) And that’s just it. I’m generally happy to sit those arguments out, but when the debate has become framed in terms of “refusing to fund my birth control” becomes “you’re an anti-woman, puritanical nutjob that wants to ban contraception altogether,” how can I not be forced into this fight? Ugh. An expanding State always finds ways to create fresh, new divisiveness. Any creatives out there have any thoughts on this? (Or similarly-minded non-creatives, I guess?)

  10. Christopher Esget
    SMatthewStolte: Now, maybe we could ask whether some pro-choicers should be welcomed into the Republican tent. 

    We’ve already done that. The pro-life crowd looked the other way and pretended to believe Mitt when he said he was pro-life, despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary. We have pro-abortion legislators, but you’ll find very few of those on the left.

  11. KC Mulville

    Well, consider an argument like abortion.

    • Suppose we convince America that people shouldn’t be forced to pay for anyone else’s abortion. Government should stay out.

    • But if “government shouldn’t be involved” is the lesson you take from that, you’ll find it hard to turn around and say that government should intervene and prevent abortions in the first place.
    • “Should government be involved?” gets used by both sides.

    Moral questions require distinctions, often very delicate distinctions, but after Tuesday (and two years of campaigns that blurred distinctions as much as possible) it’s clear that too much of the American public isn’t interested in making distinctions.

    The media certainly doesn’t help. They want to have a moral shoot-out in an eight minute TV segment.

    People have been conditioned to skip over details and follow their feelings … does someone look presidential? Does someone look judgmental? Does this guy care about people like me?  Such impressions are manipulated by advertisers, Hollywood, political consultants, pollsters – that’s what they do for a living.

    We have to make distinctions, and make them more clearly and definitively. That should be easy, but it won’t be.

  12. Jonathan Matthew Gilbert

    I think our articulation of our views is what’s got to change. I’m not a fan of abortion, I certainly don’t want to pay for one or make anyone else, but I’m not going to stop a woman who has been raped (or a 12 year old girl who has been raped by her father) from having one…and I’m DEFINITELY not going to tell her that what happened to her is God’s will. We lose a lot of credibility on social issues when people like Akin and Mourdock open their mouths. And apparently we lose a lot of votes. Marriage is a state issue, and we should keep repeating that. Younger Republicans believe it is…and most of them support it, too, so sooner or later the Party is going to as well, but in the meantime let’s at least be consistent about how we feel. If it’s a state issue and a state legalizes it…then we need to support the people of that state doing what they consider to be for the best. 

  13. Mendel

    Western Chauvinist pointed out yesterday in another social conservativism post that changing the social mores of America is a bottom-up, not a top-down task.  I agree completely with that sentiment.

    But this raises the question, why should politics be involved at all in a process that cannot be fixed with top-down approaches? 

    The point about government paying for everything is well-taken, but there is an obvious strain of social conservatism (perhaps embodied by Rick Santorum?) that wants to go well beyond keeping the government out of subsidizing certain behaviors, to having the government punish many of those behaviors. 

    As long as this faction of the Republican coalition retains a loud voice in the debate, there is a large chunk of otherwise swing voters who will probably steer clear from the party.

  14. Bereket Kelile

    The social conservative-bashing is predictable at this point. I’ve come to expect the scapegoating every time our side loses an election. 

    It reminds me of the film Charlie Wilson’s War. Wilson wants Joanne to shut up with the religious talk when he things are going well but then he hits a brick wall and finds that he needs her to work her Christian magic on the committee chairman to get the funding approved. 

    So my point is: yeah whine about us now but it won’t be long before you come back to us begging for help. We’ll be patiently waiting. 

  15. Mendel
    Christopher Esget: The social issues and the future of our society go hand in hand. If we look at abortion and homosexual “marriage,” you’re dealing with the foundations of human life. To abandon the social issues is to concede defeat not just politically, but as the human race. It’s mass suicide. That’s hyperbolic, but not by much.

    As much as I want and need the economy to improve, what does it profit a society to gain the whole world and lose its soul? · 5 minutes ago

    But do you really think that laws and government can help an unwilling nation re-find its lost soul?  Government seems the absolute last institution to fix that problem.

  16. Flapjack

    Can’t we personally (and as groups) embrace social conservatism while preaching federalism on a national basis?  I consider myself a social conservative, but it angers me that conservatives fall into the universalist trap that the Left advocates: my way for the whole nation.  While I wish others would embrace social conservative views, federalism at least allows me the basis upon which to live and practice life among those who are like me without universalist intervention (i.e., by the federal government).  Call me heartless, but I do not have the brain-space to fret about the social practices of liberal strongholds while universalism of their views threatens my way of life.  Let them be where they are and fight for our own space.

  17. Christopher Esget
    Mendel

    But do you really think that laws and government can help an unwilling nation re-find its lost soul?  Government seems the absolute last institution to fix that problem. 

    That question is both easy and difficult to answer for me. On the one hand, you are quite right – fixing the cultural problem is a job for families, schools, and churches. On the other hand, it’s the job of government to protect the weak and vulnerable, and murdering the “inconvenient” child is madness, as is the homosexual lobby’s complete reorientation of the meaning of human sexuality. I see no way to divorce the state from marriage, or the protection of human life.

  18. Joseph Stanko
    Pig Man: Social  Conservatives can either keep their souls or win national  elections.  · 1 hour ago

    I, for one, would far rather lose an election than lose my soul.

  19. Good Berean
    Rob Long:

    “I have no great love of social issues.  I would prefer to avoid them altogether.  My fear is that’s less possible now that social issues are increasingly becoming public policy.  It’s no longer okay to personally feel someway and avoid it in public debates because we pay for everything.  A desire to not pay for something equals opposition.”

    Just so. And this is a point of contention between conservatives and libertarians. One cannot separate ones values from ones property forced to be “contributed” for the “general welfare” by government coercion (i.e. taxes).

    The founding generation would have resisted the efforts on the part of government to use their tax dollars to pay  for goods and services they believed to be immoral, even more than they resisted taxation without representation.

    They abhorred democracy as much as they abhorred monarchy or aristocracy. They abhorred tyranny and despotism in any form. Today we are ruled by the tyranny of the majority more than any time in history.

  20. Western Chauvinist
    Flapjack: Can’t we personally (and as groups) embrace social conservatism while preaching federalism on a national basis?  I consider myself a social conservative, but it angers me that conservatives fall into the universalist trap that the Left advocates: my way for the whole nation.  While I wish others would embrace social conservative views, federalism at least allows me the basis upon which to live and practice life among those who are like me without universalist intervention (i.e., by the federal government).  Call me heartless, but I do not have the brain-space to fret about the social practices of liberal strongholds while universalism of their views threatens my way of life.  Let them be where they are and fight for our own space. · 1 minute ago

    There’s a strain of federalist utopianism out there. If we believe SSM isn’t going to fall under “equal protection” and even the universal progressive application of the commerce clause, we’re dreaming. The only space we’ll have carved out is in our individual homes, and the progressives are coming for that too!

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