When Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination, he suggested—and then repeatedly defended—the concept of a “truce” on social issues.
Daniels was making the point that the country’s fiscal challenges were so great—he likened them repeatedly to a “red menace” of our time—that everything else would have to take a backseat in the name of practicality. The main problem with this approach, as Bill McGurn pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, was that a truce among Republicans on such issues would be meaningless:
To begin with, the aggression on social issues today emanates mostly from the left, whose preferred vehicle is a willing judge inflicting his private social preferences on the law. Anyone who believes that a Republican call for a truce will end this is living in dreamland.
If the culture wars have followed any blueprint, it’s that the left initiates the battles and the right plays defense, only to have the media scold the right for engaging in the culture wars to begin with. As James W. Caesar wrote in a 2007 essay on conservatism:
The Religious Right objects to liberalism’s secularism. Secularism goes well beyond the espousal of an interpretation of the Constitution, where it has sought to erect a famous “wall of separation” between religion and the state. Its fundamental objective extends far beyond the legal realm. Liberal secularism is a project in its own right that is bent on eliminating any recognized place for biblical faith as the guiding light of the culture. It will not rest content until faith withdraws from playing any public role, direct or indirect. The conflict of secularism and faith is at the heart of the so-called “culture war.”
If the debates of this weekend did anything more clearly than vindicate social conservatives’ in this regard, I didn’t catch it. The concentration on social issues so flooded the debates that the topic was roundly mocked on Twitter more than any other aspect of the moderators’ behavior. But the moment that typified this was when George Stephanopoulos asked Mitt Romney the following question: “Governor Romney, do you believe that states have the right to ban contraception, or is that trumped by a constitutional right to privacy?”
Romney, baffled as to why such an utterly irrelevant question would be asked, shook his head and then said: “George, this is an unusual topic that you’re raising, states have a right to ban contraception?” Romney eventually got around to pointing out that “no state wants to. So the idea of you putting forward things that states might want to do that no state wants to do and asking me whether they can do it or not, is kind of a silly thing, I think.”
Silly, yes. Atypical, no. Stephanopoulos was doing nothing out of character when he attempted to relitigate a fight that had been settled. Conservatives have not maintained any kind of serious opposition to the legality of contraception, but since the modern liberal psyche exists fully within the angry walls of 1960s counterculture, Stephanopoulos doesn’t see anything “silly” about it at all, even if most of the country does.
The other such moment this weekend occurred during this morning’s MSNBC debate. Santorum was asked how he would react if his son came out of the closet. Santorum responded, without hesitation, “I would love him as much as I did the second before he said it. And I would try to do everything I can to be as good a father to him as possible.” MSNBC talking head Lawrence O’Donnell tweeted: “Santorum “gay son” answer is simple direct and correct. And surprising.”
And surprising? O’Donnell is surprised by which part, that Santorum would love his son or that he would try to be a good father? The way Santorum has been treated—first by Alan Colmes (who sincerely and respectfully apologized) and Eugene Robinson on the issue of his deceased child, then on this issue of a hypothetically gay son—is truly disturbing. But at the very least, these discussions have shown Santorum to be a serious defender of human dignity and liberalism’s spokesmen to be caricatures of their movement, unworthy even of the networks they represent.