The Trouble with Truce-Calling

Mainstream conservative columnist Michael Barone has provided an interesting analysis that, simply by default, social issues have taken a backseat to the pressing economic woes of the country brought on by Barack Obama and the Democrats' wild two-year spending spree.

Barone recounts Indiana governor Mitch Daniels' controversial suggestion that the next president "would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues," contending that Daniels misses the point.  Barone concludes no such truce-calling is necessary since the population that wars over those issues has largely stopped paying attention.

Barone writes, "I think both Daniels and his critics have missed the point.  The fact is that there is an ongoing truce on the social issues, because for more Americans they have been overshadowed by concerns raised by the weak economy and the Barack Obama Democrats' vast increase in the size and scope of government."  I get what he is saying, but with all due respect, I think it is Barone and other like-minded analysts who have missed the point.

Without question, topping the list of concerns for most voters in the 2010 midterms were "economic issues" like jobs, health care, and the economy.  But increased attention to those issues does not necessitate decreased or waning concern over "social issues."  What Barone fails to grasp is the same reality that made Daniels' suggestion imprudent: Americans are coming to recognize that a breakdown in morality is at the heart of all our problems -- economic, security, and social.

Americans realize that the insurmountable debt we are heaping on our children and grandchildren with reckless abandon is inexcusable.  But what has caused it if it's not irresponsibility and a lack of stewardship of the public's resources?  At the heart of our "economic issue" of debt, then, is what?  A moral problem.

Americans realize that the exploitation occurring in the marketplace, with regard to both goods and healthcare, is improper.  But what causes this if it's not greed and insatiable self-indulgence?  At the heart of our "fiscal issues" of commerce then, is what?  A moral problem.

Americans realize that our porous southern border that has allowed nothing short of an invasion of drug and alien smugglers from Mexico is unacceptable and warrants immediate correction.  But what has caused our government's lifeless inertia on this critical concern if it's not a breakdown in our respect for the just rule of law?  At the heart of our "security issue" of illegal immigration, then, is what?  A moral problem.

We could keep going endlessly with this demonstration.  Every financial, economic, domestic, foreign, or cultural issue we face can be tied back directly to a crumbling moral center.  It's what Thomas Jefferson meant when he wrote, "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?"

In other words, the securest protection offered to the survival and success of the great American experiment in liberty was a common morality tethered to a fundamental moral authority.  The source foundation of our "culture war," then, is the very same foundation for our "economic war," our "security war," and every other war we encounter in our politics. 

Americans are beginning to understand this, and it is why they are fundamentally rejecting the path being offered by the left -- one that flatly opposes submission to any moral authority superseding the state.  The right wins when it offers a stark contrast to that vision -- not just on economic issues, but on all issues.

It's why conservatives would be fools to follow Daniels' ill-fated suggestion or Barone's ill-advised analysis and continue treating our societal sins and cultural chaos as mutually exclusive.

Oddly enough, there are those on the left who see this as well.  Tiffany Stanley recently wrote a piece for the liberal New Republic magazine, mourning how Democrats have given up on religious (read: "social issues") voters.  After citing the inroads Obama made with evangelicals, Protestants, and Catholics in 2008, she lamented, "But, in just two short years, the left has become sluggish in its courtship of religious voters, significantly scaling back its faith-outreach programs."

Of course, the problem liberals have with these Christian groups is not a lack of outreach initiatives.  It's the fact that the tenets of their belief system, when exhibited as demonstrably as they have been for the last two years, run afoul of the very moral authority those religious voters embrace.

And it's for that reason that in the end, Barone's analysis is short-sighted.  Americans are not abandoning the culture war.  Rather, they are coming to properly regard it as but one manifestation of a battle over worldviews that rages on all fronts. 

Therefore, the smartest path for conservatives to take is not isolating culture warriors by declaring silly truces that our opposition will not respect, but rather encouraging them with the reassurance that their cause is noble and necessary and that their efforts are not in vain.

Peter is a public high school government teacher and radio talk show host in central Indiana.  E-mail or visit