Recently a prominent former Republican governor and potential presidential candidate suggested the Republican Party declare a moratorium on “social issues” in order to wage a united front against Obama on fiscal issues. The debate that followed didn’t settle the question, but it did start a new debate that goes deeper than partisan political strategies for the 2012 election.
There are two assumptions behind any proposal that Republicans avoid social issues: that social issues are always abrasive and divisive, and that divisions over social issues are bad. Both of these assumptions are wrong, and the Republican Party would do well to reject such advice.
The social issues most often targeted for a “moratorium” are abortion, gay marriage and guns, but often other issues are added to the list, like immigration or education reform. The underlying concept behind all such proposals is that politics is about economics and only economics – about taxes and spending – and any questions about our culture or cultural values must be excluded from politics. Yet, this idea that there should be a pristine separation between economic questions and cultural questions is not supported by either history or by common sense.
Is immigration a social issue and is it “divisive”? Polls say more than 80 percent of Republicans and large majorities of independents want added border security and oppose a new amnesty for illegal aliens. Moreover, immigration policy directly impacts employment and national security, not to mention education and health care. How then can it be excluded from any policy agenda aimed at safeguarding the nation and improving the economy?
But let’s return to social issues proper and ask again, are they divisive? To this I must answer, yes, they are sometimes divisive, and so what? An election is supposed to divide voters along the fault lines of the body politic. Voters are asked to choose leaders based on the different and contrasting pathways offered by candidates. Even when a campaign is supposedly about “uniting people,” it is really about rallying citizens against some threat to prosperity or public safety.
It has always been a mystery to me how Republican strategists can suggest avoiding social issues while the American left, now in control of the Democratic Party, continually moves these issues to the top of the political agenda. Republicans who tackle social issues are almost always responding to some new Democrat initiative. Why should Republicans remain silent?
The expansion of Islamic Shariah law in European and U.S. courts has been lumped into the social issue basket by the Republican establishment, although it properly belongs in the national security basket. How can a system of law that denies the sovereignty of the U.S. Constitution not be considered a threat national security? The First Amendment’s religious freedom clause has never been thought to justify a religion that practices human sacrifice, but somehow, Shariah law’s enslavement of women is compatible with the unalienable rights of our Declaration of Independence?
Behind many of these elitist attempts to censor and limit the issues that can be brought to a political campaign is an ignorance of history and an ignorance about what motivates people’s “economic behavior.” Yes, jobs and the economy are now the paramount political issues, but the policies which are developed to deal with these economic problems are not derived solely from competing economic theories. For example, conflicting policies aimed at job creation are rooted as much in our different cultural norms and values as in economics per se. Liberals know that private sector jobs generate the taxes that support public sector jobs. They know this, but they do not care. The need for a continued expansion of the public sector is a matter of religious faith to them, and no amount of economic data will convince them otherwise.
Do Warren Buffet and Bill Gates not understand basic supply and demand curves? They do, and they still support Obama’s policies. Do the business school faculties at Ivy League universities not understand our Medicare program is unsustainable without massive tax increases that will cripple the economy? Yes, they do, but they still will not support Paul Ryan’s reforms.
Why the willful blindness to economic realities? It’s their culture, stupid! The cultural elites must always be on the side of the oppressed, the “underdog,” and the underdog in any situation is always someone other than the capitalist entrepreneur or the middle-class parent.
The new “underclass” which has aroused the sympathy and interest of the American left is not the American poor but the world’s poor. After all, when searching for victims of capitalist exploitation, why stop at the border? Obviously, the surest way to destroy the American middle class is to open our borders to the world’s unemployed or underemployed, who need American jobs so much more than Americans need them.
To Americans who oppose such thinking, Obama says, “lower your expectations!” To the left, this is not a matter of economics; it is a matter of “social justice” – and a form of restitution for America’s past sins.
Republican “pragmatists” who think cultural issues can be excluded from politics are about as pragmatic as trying to exclude fish from the ocean. More than that: Remaining silent on cultural issues is a form of political surrender. What these self-styled strategists do not understand is that the white flag is not part of the American arsenal.