A Hard Truth: Social Issues May Not Be Losers

 

Republican strategists may need to face up to an inconvenient truth: conservative social positions are no longer a thorn in the GOP’s side. We can win with them. Without them, it’s tough to say.

For some, this is a hard pill to swallow. Many Republicans are quite attached to a progressive social narrative, and strategic considerations have long been the justification for telling religious conservatives that they’re on the wrong side of history. Whether that’s true still remains to be seen. This most recent election, however, showed us Democrats desperately trying to gin up some resentment over social issues, and losing. Meanwhile we saw pro-life, pro-traditional marriage conservatives winning across the map, sometimes in fairly blue states.

While it would be wrong to see this election as a referendum on social issues, it’d be equally wrong to dismiss these issues as trivial or unrelated to the outcome. Actually, the social issues are reasonably well-aligned with the broader narrative of Democratic failure. Liberals got too much power, overplayed their hand, alienated much of the public, and were punished. As I explained at The Federalist earlier this week, our job now is to be reasonable, and make liberals pay for their excesses.

Hillary Clinton isn’t going to be able to rein in the wilder progressive factions as they crusade for gender eradication, polyamory, abortion parties and the like. We can profit from that in 2016 by presenting ourselves as responsible and reasonable and asking for explanations of the crazier liberal behavior. The goal here is not to put social issues front and center of the GOP’s platform, but rather to reinforce our aura of reasonableness. Also, if we play our cards right, we may put Democrats in the position of running for cover whenever social questions arise. Wouldn’t that be nice?

I realize of course that many will see marriage as the continuing weak point for Republicans. Hasn’t America basically embraced same-sex marriage, leaving us vulnerable to being tarred as bigoted reactionaries if we don’t comply.

I say more about this in my Federalist piece, but the short answer is that the issue has lost its thunder. Middle-of-road voters don’t seem to care that much about it anymore and — interestingly — the youngest new voters are trending Republican, even though most are fine with same-sex marriage. I think the main explanation is that they are products of their time in terms of their social mores, but so much so that they don’t see marriage as a major voting issue, and don’t seem inclined to punish the GOP for putting forward more traditional-marriage-supporting candidates. Second, many people are bothered by the grossly undemocratic means by which marriage redefinition is being imposed on the country at large. That fits nicely with the broader narrative of “Democratic overreach,” and offers some nice talking points for politicians in 2016, insofar as the issue needs to be discussed.

Third, I’m confident that we haven’t seen the end of the marriage issue. If you’ve paid attention to progressive social change, you know that these central issues never really die. They shift and present themselves again in different forms, generally recycling the same fundamental disagreements in slightly different clothing. Right now we’re moving into a relative lull on the marriage debate, and if we can allow marriage to slide to the back burner, that might be just as well for the moment. But it will flare up again, however — probably within the next decade or two — and it’s good to give at least a little thought to the future.

The precise timing and contours of the next confrontation are hard to predict from the present vantage point. Clearly, one relevant question concerns the Supreme Court, which may decide to “settle” the matter for us, in much the way it once “settled” the abortion issue. That might actually be a gift to the GOP, because court victories can sometimes — as in the case of Roe v Wade — give cultural momentum to the losers.

In any case, the worst thing we can do at this juncture is sacrifice our moral authority by making a formal act of submission to the overlords of Progressivism, at precisely the time when the voters have started to lose interest in the whole business. Voters mostly think it’s over, so we can allow it to slip lower on their priority lists for the next few years. When the next round comes (and it will), we’ll have a stronger hand if we have retained some semblance of principle. It could also help to have been obviously wronged by an overactive judiciary and corrupt, culturally imperialistic progressives.

Meanwhile, white Evangelicals have been turning out in strong numbers for the GOP. Let’s keep that party going.

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  1. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    My general sense is that people don’t want social change, upsetting the apple cart either direction is a loser.

    The radical left social agenda lost everywhere.  The anti-abortion amendments also lost.

    The winning message is and has been:

    1.) We don’t want to screw with it.

    2.) He screwed with it, and now its screwed up, now we have to figure out how to stop screwing with it.

    Every winner since 2000 has had this message

    2000:  Clinton was screwing with it, and now its screwed up

    2006: Bush screwed with it, now its screwed up

    2010: Obama screwed with it

    2012: Holy crap this romney guy looks like he might screw with it more than obama

    2014: OMG OBAMA STOP SCREWING WITH IT

    • #1
  2. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Rachel Lu: We can profit from that in 2016 by presenting ourselves as responsible and reasonable and asking for explanations of the crazier liberal behavior. The goal here is not to put social issues front and center of the GOP’s platform, but rather to reinforce our aura of reasonableness. Also, if we play our cards right, we may put Democrats in the position of running for cover whenever social questions arise.

    I think that’d be a smart and very effective tone to take. It amazes me to no end that Democrats — e.g., this fellow — are able to deride pro-lifers as “extremists” while defending partial-birth-abortion on-demand.

    Rachel Lu: I realize of course that many will see marriage as the continuing weak point for Republicans. Hasn’t America basically embraced same-sex marriage, leaving us vulnerable to being tarred as bigoted reactionaries if we don’t comply.

    I’m confident that we haven’t seen the end of the marriage issue.

    I realize this is shorthand, but I would really suggest we not use “the marriage issue” as a synonym for the SSM debate. There’s too much else related to marriage — e.g., illegitimacy, and overly-delayed marriage in some quarters — that deserves our attention and is, IMHO, much more important than SSM.

    • #2
  3. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    The reason we are losing on marriage is because while we win nearly all referendums positioned as “don’t screw with it.”

    the left is able to position the issue as the government screwing with it, and they are actively trying to stop screwing with it.

    • #3
  4. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    Tom, I regard you as a smart and reasonable guy, but it amazes me that you think making a huge change to the definition of a major and basic social institution that has very few components to that definition is no big deal. Especially in light of the changes it has already engendered in thinking about things you regard as good–the understanding that children almost always do best with their own Mom and dad for example. That there might be cases where this is not true seems to convince you the change is fine. Any way, as Rachel’s idea is not exactly calling a ‘truce’ on social issues, which just amounted to giving up, I think it is a good strategy. She’s right that the debate is just beginning because the implications of this attempt to change thinking about family are so monumental.

    • #4
  5. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    If pollsters are correct, social battles are distasteful to the general public. But in my opinion, that’s because electoral politics and judicial fiats are the worst tools for dealing with social questions. Our current method of dealing with social questions is probably the stupidest way to address them.

    Social questions are mostly cultural, not political or legal. Politics and law aren’t equipped to settle the questions. For one thing, politics and law try to settle specific conflicts. But culture is much more than any specific conflict; on the contrary, it’s an ongoing development and investigation of values.

    It’s pure hubris for elected officials to “decide” what family is, or what marriage is. Really, why should we obey Bill & Hillary when it comes to marriage? Who the hell is Anthony Kennedy to declare that opposing SSM is absolutely grounded in homophobic bigotry?

    Now you may object that somebody has to make those decisions. But no, they don’t. That’s an assumption that isn’t needed. It dramatically over-values the role of law in society by assuming that law must settle everything.

    Provocative post, Rachel! Maybe you should consider teaching philosophy …

    • #5
  6. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    I get what you’re saying Merina; we disagree, but so be it. Regarding my bigger point, do you feel we (currently) put enough emphasis on illegitimacy as a matter of public concern?

    Again, I don’t mean to over-analyze Rachel’s word choice, but “the marriage issue” is such a big and multi-faceted thing that I think it’s a mistake to use it as a synonym for the SSM debate.

    IMHO, we’d do more good if we spent more effort trying to convince people to marry — and for the right reasons — and less debating whether or not Cato and Mr. Rand’s relationship should be recognized as marriage (less is not zero!). I know this happens within churches, but it’s taken back-seat to SSM as the topic of public concern. I get why that happened — Leftists imposing their will, etc. — but I think it’s been a mistake to allow it to happen like this.

    • #6
  7. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    There are other social issues where we are well positioned to win big, education being the biggest.

    Primary and secondary ed are in massive disarray, and the Dems have largely been the ones road-blocking attempts at reform.  Bush, unfortunately, tried to nationalize the issue with NCLB (I think this set us back years), which Obama then totally trashed with the even more disastrous Race for the Top money and power grab.  Obama’s real overreach, however, was the lunch power grab, an issue which neatly crystalized the regime’s  micromanaging and “holier than thou” power lust.

    Public union reforms also are mostly winners for us, and when successful will help in the school reforms too.

    • #7
  8. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Merina, marriage has always had three components: complimentarity, exclusivity, and permanence. The first one taken out was permanence. Next complimentarity was taken on (and lost to us so far.) The real question is whether an attack on exclusivity will cause a great enough backlash to help restore the other two.

    Rachel, I don’t know that the electorate is moving our way. I suspect that the left simply didn’t run any personalities worthy of carrying the banner for their side. Guru is right that we won this last round mostly by not upsetting the apple cart. That being said, the cart is in a ditch and may require a bit of upsetting to get it back on the road and pointed in the right direction.

    I don’t have a real answer to what we need to do. Being non-confrontational on both policy and social issues might win us elections, but to what end? Governing that way certainly will not arrest the fall of our once great nation.

    • #8
  9. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    I think it would be a crazy mistake to abandon social issues just when we are starting to make some inroads with minority voters. For example, rumor has it that Hispanics in Colorado who registered Republican in the recent election were motivated by court decisions in favor of same-sex marriage. (I am not revealing my source for this inference because I don’t know whether it’s supposed to be public information or not.) It is certainly clear that Hispanics are not enthusiastic about abortion, and that Udall ran on abortion. We think we won more Hispanics in Colorado by far than in most elections, and the social issues almost certainly helped. Similarly, I think we all know that same-sex marriage bans have always won the support of large majorities of black voters. It definitely depends on tone (no more Todd Akins, please) but handled correctly, these are good issues for us.

    • #9
  10. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    I think Guru’s casting of the issue is pretty close to the truth. The moderate voters in the middle are who decide elections, and they usually vote for the status quo. When they get a sense that the current party in power (read the presidency) has screwed things up they will vote for the other party. But their default position is the status quo.

    • #10
  11. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    Republican’s shouldn’t change their views on social issues, but they shouldn’t run on them either. Cory Gardener won in CO by not engaging in the fight, and always being positive rather than negative. Only conservatives like curmudgeons.

    • #11
  12. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    Z in MT:Republican’s shouldn’t change their views on social issues, but they shouldn’t run on them either.Cory Gardener won in CO by not engaging in the fight, and always being positive rather than negative.Only conservatives like curmudgeons.

    Brilliant.  Social issues were a loser – for Mark “Uterus” Udall.

    I wouldn’t put too much stock in the notion that Social Issues are a *winner* for conservatives.  People already know what SoCons want, so shoving it in their faces is an annoyance.  When you avoid making a nuisance of yourself (but people nonetheless know what you want) you’re free to make inroads in other areas that you can actually effect.

    • #12
  13. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Majestyk:

    Z in MT:Republican’s shouldn’t change their views on social issues, but they shouldn’t run on them either.Cory Gardener won in CO by not engaging in the fight, and always being positive rather than negative.Only conservatives like curmudgeons.

    Brilliant. Social issues were a loser – for Mark “Uterus” Udall.

    I wouldn’t put too much stock in the notion that Social Issues are a *winner* for conservatives. People already know what SoCons want, so shoving it in their faces is an annoyance. When you avoid making a nuisance of yourself (but people nonetheless know what you want) you’re free to make inroads in other areas that you can actually effect.

    Absolutely right: don’t shove it in people’s faces. As I say in my article, no reasonable person wants the next election to be a social issue slug-fest. But we can maintain our integrity without being annoying. The goal is not to push the social issues to the center of the stage, but rather to handle them right. Don’t ever seem ashamed of maintaining conservative stances.

    • #13
  14. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:I get what you’re saying Merina; we disagree, but so be it. Regarding my bigger point, do you feel we (currently) put enough emphasis on illegitimacy as a matter of public concern?

    Again, I don’t mean to over-analyze Rachel’s word choice, but “the marriage issue” is such a big and multi-faceted thing that I think it’s a mistake to use it as a synonym for the SSM debate.

    I deliberately chose that term because I wanted to indicate the broader debate, which definitely includes the points you mention *but also* SSM. I think it’s quite likely that SSM will be less central to “the next round” of the marriage debates, and that might be good. I’ve agreed before that it is in some respects a noisy sideshow from the central tragedy of marital and familial collapse. But it’s still part of the package.

    Part of the reason we have so much trouble with illegitimacy, divorce etc etc is because people have ceased to see marriage as a natural, organic relationship with naturally-attendant privileges and duties. We now see the various components as part of an a la carte menu, and people often aren’t that good at composing their “meal” in a reasonable way; that’s why they do things like cohabitating, having children without definitely committing to the permanence that children actually need, etc. SSM has arisen out of that confusion and then exacerbated it. It was sold on the lie that homosexual and heterosexual relationships are equivalent in every important way, and once that lie is exposed, some want to take the (in a way quite logical) next step of undermining those elements of heterosexual coupling that make it “a poor fit” for same-sex couples. Hence gender eradication etc. I think the growing enthusiasm for sterilizing heterosexuals may also reflect something of a similar impulse. Tamp down fecundity, and put us all on a level playing field.

    So even if we don’t ourselves plan to make SSM our central issue, I think it would be unwise to assume we’ll be able to stay away from it. And *very* unwise to make a formal party-wide act of submission on the issue, which will of course enrage religious conservatives, but will also leave us in a compromised position with respect to other arguments we might eventually wish to make. If we could keep support of traditional marriage in the platform, but maybe not talk about it too much for the next few years, that would probably be the ideal.

    • #14
  15. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    The King Prawn:Merina, marriage has always had three components: complimentarity, exclusivity, and permanence. The first one taken out was permanence. Next complimentarity was taken on (and lost to us so far.) The real question is whether an attack on exclusivity will cause a great enough backlash to help restore the other two.

    Rachel, I don’t know that the electorate is moving our way.

    Actually support for SSM has fallen slightly over the last several months. It’s small. It could be a blip. I’m not predicting some wave turn-around. I still think (though of course I’ve said this all along) that we need to avoid caving to the progressive narrative that claims we religious conservatives are on the wrong side of history and doomed to ever-greater irrelevance. Like other social and political trends, public opinion on marriage is dynamic. I think for a great many people, support for SSM was always fairly shallow and based on emotion, and even though most people view the debate as completely “over” at this point, the general public is really about fifty-fifty as to whether they even support SSM at all.

    Again, I’m not suggesting that the whole country will wake up tomorrow (or a year from now) and see things my way. I’m just saying that this whole situation is far less “settled” than the left would have you believe. And part of the reason it *appears* settled is owing to completely undemocratic measures to impose an elite progressive view on the public through courts and, sometimes, sheer governmental malfeasance. Those kinds of measures can come back to bite you in the long run. I think they have for the pro-choice camp in the case of Roe v Wade.

    • #15
  16. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Merina Smith: Especially in light of the changes it has already engendered in thinking about things you regard as good–the understanding that children almost always do best with their own Mom and dad for example.

    How does SSM have anything to do with this?  Is there any evidence that—outside of corrupt Departments of Child Protective Services—anyone thinks that children don’t “almost always do best with their own Mom and dad”?

    • #16
  17. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    KC Mulville:

    Provocative post, Rachel! Maybe you should consider teaching philosophy …

    If only philosophy students were as insightful and provocative as the Ricochetti…

    • #17
  18. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Ironic that someone chose to illustrate this piece with a photo of a child nodding off during the Progressive oath of fealty

    “In medieval Europe, the swearing of fealty took the form of an oath made by a vassal, or subordinate, to his lord.”

    • #18
  19. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Tuck:

    Merina Smith: Especially in light of the changes it has already engendered in thinking about things you regard as good–the understanding that children almost always do best with their own Mom and dad for example.

    How does SSM have anything to do with this? Is there any evidence that—outside of corrupt Departments of Child Protective Services—anyone thinks that children don’t “almost always do best with their own Mom and dad”?

    Seriously? If you think that’s a real question, I recommend starting with this article to get a scope of the real state of the debate: http://thefederalist.com/2014/10/27/what-its-like-to-face-the-lgbt-inquisition/

    • #19
  20. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Rachel Lu: no reasonable person wants the next election to be a social issue slug-fest.

    Amen to that.

    • #20
  21. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Rachel Lu: If you think that’s a real question

    It’s obviously a real question.

    The article that you offered offers no answers to my question, however.

    I’ve not heard of married gay parents kidnapping children from their rightful parents to raise them.  Does the Federalist site have anything on that topic?

    • #21
  22. user_357321 Inactive
    user_357321
    @Jordan

    I think this is more about Americans rejecting identity politics than anything else.  The tactic of “if you don’t agree with me you’re a {racist, homophobe, sexist, climate denier, etc}” is beginning to experience some pushback.  People are starting to see that there really isn’t a direction to history, and, in some matters, the old ways are best.

    What will be interesting to see is the SSM support numbers when people drop the fever-pitch rhetoric from the debate.  I imagine they will tank.  I think it might be really something like 2-1 actually oppose SSM, but they’re afraid to actually say so because of all the vitriol that will be lobbed in their direction by the loud-mouthed ideologues.

    I also would anticipate a further bent in the conservative direction, at least in polling, as the identity-politics poison is sapped from our body politic.  The less of that taint in the system, the more people are willing to use their natural reason to state the obvious.  And this is a very, very bad thing for the race baiters and hucksters of identity politics.

    • #22
  23. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Tuck:

    Rachel Lu: If you think that’s a real question

    It’s obviously a real question.

    The article that you offered offers no answers to my question, however.

    I’ve not heard of married gay parents kidnapping children from their rightful parents to raise them. Does the Federalist site have anything on that topic?

    “Kidnapping” presumes illegality, but look up surrogacy, which does in fact involve a planned removal of a child from his mother’s arms, for the sake of giving him to people who have “contracted” to raise him. Some states will back such contracts with force of law.

    Here’s another piece worth reading on the subject of taking children from their natural parents for the sake of supporting homosexuals’ desires to parent within a same-sex relationship: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2014/09/13692/

    • #23
  24. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    Rachel Lu: “Kidnapping” presumes illegality, but look up surrogacy, which does in fact involve a planned removal of a child from his mother’s arms, for the sake of giving him to people who have “contracted” to raise him. Some states will back such contracts with force of law.

    I’m sorry but this just falls flat with a large number of people. That child would not exist but for the surrogacy contract, so the choice is between a child that can grow up with loving gay parents or not at all. I think people would rather see that child exist than not.

    • #24
  25. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    Tom–what Rachel said. It’s nice how I raised my kids to be more articulate conservatives than I, don’t you think? I will add that schools should hammer into the heads of kids that you can avoid poverty in life by graduating from high school, getting married before having kids and staying married to raise them.

    Tuck, when you redefine marriage you redefine family. It then follows that mom and mom or dad and dad–are just as good as Mom and Dad. ARTs are fine too, which of course detach kids from Mom, Dad or both. Just try arguing against this at your next lefty gathering.

    • #25
  26. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    Merina Smith: I will add that schools should hammer into the heads of kids that you can avoid poverty in life by graduating from high school, getting married before having kids and staying married to raise them.

    This is the job of parents not schools.

    Merina Smith: Tuck, when you redefine marriage you redefine family. It then follows that mom and mom or dad and dad–are just as good as Mom and Dad. ARTs are fine too, which of course detach kids from Mom, Dad or both. Just try arguing against this at your next lefty gathering.

    All of this is a matter of contention and not everyone agrees with you on these effects.

    • #26
  27. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    I’d re-phrase the argument about surrogacy, because taking the issue from the perspective of “the good of the child” isn’t the problem. The reason why surrogacy is questionable is not because of what it says about the child, but for what it says about the responsibilities which society demands of the biological parents.

    For obvious moral and practical reasons, society has always demanded that biological parents are responsible for the children they procreate. While we all applaud the good that technology brings, allowing people to raise children who want them, at the same time it severs (or at least weakens) the connection between raising children from bearing children. It claims that bearing children is a fairly minor concern, and that all that really counts in being a good parent is raising them.

    By that logic, the necessary connection with biology is gone. By that same logic, anyone can serve as a parent, so long as they “properly” raise the child. By that logic, we don’t need parents anymore, we only need “caregivers.” By that logic, we don’t need biological parents because we have the Village.

    It’s that logic we oppose.

    • #27
  28. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    This post is premised on applying the results of the recent election (namely: Democrats who pushed liberal social stances losing, unabashed social conservatives winning) to the upcoming one in 2016.

    But it’s worth remembering that the electorate which showed up to vote last week has a much different composition than the one which tends to show up for general elections. The types of people who can only be bothered to participate in presidential elections also tend to be the type who are somewhat knee-jerk socially liberal.

    Thus, I don’t think many of the “lessons” from this mid-term are necessary relevant for 2016 – and that includes almost all the post-election analysis since last week, not just this one article.

    I’m not advocating for the opposite point of view, just want to put the matter in a little perspective. Either way, this is always solid advice:

    Rachel Lu:our job now is to be reasonable, and make liberals pay for their excesses.

    • #28
  29. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    I think referring to “social issues” as a general catch-all is problematic. Same-sex marriage is not the same issue as abortion, abortion is not the same issue has contraception, and though all three of these issues potentially raise issues of religious liberty, religious liberty is a distinct issue as well.

    I think it’s accurate to say that the hard line progressive position on most social issues is unpopular with the general public, but on many of these issues the hard-line conservative position is unpopular as well. The public doesn’t agree with the hard-line progressive position that abortion should be essentially available on demand up until the moment of birth, but it also doesn’t support conservative efforts to ban abortion out right through measures such as personhood amendments.

    • #29
  30. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    KC Mulville: For obvious moral and practical reasons, society has always demanded that biological parents are responsible for the children they procreate.

    Yes, but society also teaches — rightly, to my mind — that parents who are not capable of raising the children they conceive do the right thing by transferring their parental rights to others. We want pregnant teens to do the Juno thing, right?

    Now, I agree that surrogacy has moral complications that adoption lacks (i.e., the child pre-exists the circumstances of adoption, while he or she is created as a result of surrogacy, etc), but there do seem to be conflicting principles here, some of which indicate that it’s acceptable and even laudable to transfer the responsibilities of parenthood to others.

    • #30
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