This President's Day (officially called 'Washington's Birthday', which was officially reset to the third Monday in February by Nixon in 1971, thus not actually making it Washington's birthday anymore...separate rant) evidently brought some degree of mental anguish among the Establishment Republican minds, some of whom sound ready to throw in the towel for Romney if he can't win Michigan and call in...Jeb Bush? Or beg Mitch Daniels to reconsider? Oh for crying out loud. And all of this doubt and fear because a social conservative has overtaken the establishment candidate in national popularity. More specifically, as Rush stated today, "What's scaring them is that Santorum is coming out and he is unabashedly being honest and truthful about his beliefs when it comes to so-called social conservative issues. And they are in a panic."
But to set some minds at ease, a few early reviews of Jeffrey Bell's new book, The Case for Polarized Politics, have emerged among the more Romney-friendly outlets, apparently recognizing that the social conservative movement is an integral component to not only building up the Republican Party, but also winning! The focal piece for this discussion comes from James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal:
Social conservatism, Mr. Bell argues in his forthcoming book, "The Case for Polarized Politics," has a winning track record for the GOP. "Social issues were nonexistent in the period 1932 to 1964," he observes. "The Republican Party won two presidential elections out of nine, and they had the Congress for all of four years in that entire period. . . . When social issues came into the mix—I would date it from the 1968 election . . . the Republican Party won seven out of 11 presidential elections."
The Democrats who won, including even Barack Obama in 2008, did not play up social liberalism in their campaigns. In 1992 Bill Clinton was a death-penalty advocate who promised to "end welfare as we know it" and make abortion "safe, legal and rare." Social issues have come to the fore on the GOP side in two of the past six presidential elections—in 1988 (prison furloughs, the Pledge of Allegiance, the ACLU) and 2004 (same-sex marriage). "Those are the only two elections since Reagan where the Republican Party has won a popular majority," Mr. Bell says. "It isn't coincidental."
Bell digs deeper into the broader historical linkage of conservative social issues:
...social conservatism is both relatively new and uniquely American, and it is a response to aggression, not an initiation of it. The left has had "its center of gravity in social issues" since the French Revolution, he says. "Yes, the left at that time, with people like Robespierre, was interested in overthrowing the monarchy and the French aristocracy. But they were even more vehemently in favor of bringing down institutions like the family and organized religion. In that regard, the left has never changed. . . . I think we've had a good illustration of it in the last month or so."
In regards to Obamacare's HHS mandate regarding this "contraceptive flap," Bell says, "it wasn't a miscalculation. They knew that the Catholic Church and other believers were going to push back against this thing. . . . They were determined to push it through, because it's their irreplaceable ideological core. . . . The left keeps putting these issues into the mix, and they do it very deliberately, and I think they do it as a matter of principle." I believe he is right on the mark with that analysis. Bell continues to point out the benchmarks of societal issues that have inherently been a part of conservatisms core...
American social conservatism, Mr. Bell says, began in response to the sexual revolution, which since the 1960s has been "the biggest agenda item and the biggest success story of the left." That was true in Western Europe and Japan too, but only in America did a socially conservative opposition arise.
The roots of social conservatism, he maintains, lie in the American Revolution. "Nature's God is the only authority cited in the Declaration of Independence. . . . The usual [assumption] is, the U.S. has social conservatism because it's more religious. . . . My feeling is that the very founding of the country is the natural law, which is God-given, but it isn't particular to any one religion. . . . If you believe that rights are unalienable and that they come from God, the odds are that you're a social conservative."
Right on! Now here is where the establishment fears begin in our current presidential competition, but where Rush's point takes hold, as pertains to Santorum:
Mr. Santorum is the most consistent and unapologetic social conservative in the race, but Mr. Bell rejects the common claim that he places too strong an emphasis on social issues: "I think that's unfair to Santorum. He goes out of his way to say that he has an economic platform, he isn't just about social issues."
He notes that on NBC's "Meet the Press" last weekend, host David Gregory opened his interview with the candidate by asking a series of questions about social issues, one of which he prefaced by saying that such issues "have come . . . to define your campaign."
Mr. Santorum disputed the premise: "It's not what's defining my campaign. I would say that what's defining my campaign is going out and talking about liberty, talking about economic growth, talking about getting manufacturing jobs back here to this country, trying to grow this economy to make sure that everybody in America can participate in it."
This exchange, like many other Santorum interviews, can be seen as a synecdoche of the liberal-conservative social-issue dynamic Mr. Bell describes. To the extent that social issues have "come to define" Mr. Santorum's campaign, it is in substantial part because liberal interviewers like Mr. Gregory have kept pushing them. If Mr. Bell is right, Mr. Santorum should end up benefiting politically, including in November if he is the nominee.
But what about voters who don't make a high priority of social issues, who aren't unwilling to vote for a social conservative but might be put off by a candidate who is—or is made to appear—a moralistic busybody? "The key thing along that line is the issue of coercion," Mr. Bell says. "Who is guilty of coercion? I happen to think it's the left." Mr. Obama and his supporters are "going to imply that Santorum wants to impose all the tenets of traditional morality on the American population. He doesn't. He just doesn't want the opposite imposed on Middle America."
Bob Schieffer's interview on Face the Nation is also exemplary of Mr. Bell's analysis here:
Matt Lewis of the Daily Caller also chimed in on this topic surrounding Bell's publication:
As much as moderate Republicans and cosmopolitan conservatives might lament the resurrection of the culture wars (which were foisted upon us, and appear to have been rekindled once again by liberal overreach), they were electorally fruitful for the GOP.
The trouble for Republican presidential hopefuls trying to make hay of a struggling economy is that, when times are hard, liberals can always out-promise and out-class-warfare their adversaries. Thus, national elections that focus instead on foreign policy or cultural issues have tended to skew more favorably to the GOP
Regarding cultural issues, one could argue that times have changed — that postmodern Americans are no longer interested in preserving traditional American values — that we’re all too sophisticated or too civilized to care. I would say two things: First, prove it. Second, while today’s voters may be too sophisticated to fall for cheap “family values” pandering, I do not for one minute believe the vast majority of Americans have suddenly turned up their noses at sincere efforts to preserve a just and moral society.
ADDENDUM: William McGurn joined in this discussion today, sending a message to those who would suggest that Santorum simply drop the social issues altogether...
It's not practical, first, because Mr. Santorum is running as what he is, a conviction politician. Having been dismissed for months by Republicans hostile to his social views, he is not likely to take their advice now. He appreciates that he did not get where he is today by trimming his sails.
Indeed, that's one reason he has now overtaken Mitt Romney as the front-runner...[who] is behind because Republican voters have yet to be persuaded he stands for anything. Mr. Santorum is ahead because even those who might not sign onto all his social particulars are hungry for a nominee who does not bend with the wind.
Dropping the social issues is also not practical for another reason: The media won't let him. When Mr. Obama used a prayer breakfast earlier this month to suggest that the Gospel of Luke was a call for raising taxes on the wealthy, the press corps yawned. When Mr. Santorum complained about the "phony theology" behind the president's worldview, suddenly it landed on every front page and lead every news show.
McGurn goes on to say that when Santorum discusses these issues, he needs to fold them into a larger narrative about the free society. Agreed. That's commendable advice, right? The only thing I find peculiar about it is having attended a Santorum rally, weeks prior to this particular suggestion, Rick HAS BEEN folding the social issues into that larger narrative! I guess this is just the divergence experienced between being on the ground and being behind the news desk.