Social Issues Are Not Going Away in 2012

(See also: Conservatism that Assures the Unthinkable: the Reelection of Barack Obama)

As America hurtles toward an economic cliff, concerned citizens are -- understandably -- thinking about the financial crisis: the debt, deficit, lack of jobs, out-of-control spending, unsustainable government expansion, and outrageous new regulations choking business development.  On a more personal level, we all have friends and relatives who are facing bankruptcy and/or home foreclosure; all of us have seen our retirement funds and investments diminish precipitously and our home values plummet.  These are very uncertain economic times, and the future seems very bleak if things continue as they are. 

Frankly, how the government spends taxpayer money comes down to moral issues.  Many Americans see Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other entitlements as essentially moral issues that revolve around the question of how best to address poverty and take care of the most vulnerable of the nation's citizens.  Also, government waste and corruption are essentially matters involving the character and integrity of politicians, who conveniently forget that they're public servants shortly after being elected.

Every poll that puts economic issues at the top of the nation's worries also notes that the vast majority (77 percent) of Americans believe that the nation is on the "wrong track."  Most Americans are also deeply concerned about the moral disintegration and family breakdown that are equally threatening to the nation's well-being.  As Allan Bloom and Gertrude Himmelfarb pithily summed up, America's "sturdy virtues are being diluted into shallow values."  In short, for many Americans, our values deficit is as troubling as our financial deficit.  The liberal media and many politicians appear to have no comprehension of how passionately the general public feels about defending traditional morality and understands that Judeo-Christian virtues nurtured American exceptionalism and are the foundation for Western civilization.

Regardless of the surface issues that dominate the conversations of the chattering class, I doubt that the deeply held worldviews of the general public have changed significantly in the decade since the Washington Post reported that 88 percent of voters made their voting decisions based on their "moral values."  At that time, the Post noted that most voters were "dissatisfied with the moral values" prevalent across the nation and that most of those voters (74 percent) viewed government policies as contributing to the problem.  Further, many of those voters (64 percent) cited religion as "the most important thing" or an "extremely important thing" in their lives.

As we look toward the pivotal 2012 election, I note five signs that the issues that are important to social conservatives will be influential in terms of political victories.

  1. In contrast to the mainstream media myths, social conservative values have a strong winning record.  Most recently, in the NY-9 election to replace disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D), Republican Bob Turner won handily over the Democratic candidate in a district that no a Republican has won since 1923.  His opponent's vote in favor of same-sex "marriage" in the New York legislature played an important role in the Republican's victory.  Every significant GOP candidate for president is pro-life; most are opposed to same-sex "marriage"; and most oppose taxpayer funding for abortion and its champion Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, which is currently receiving federal funding through Title X.  Clearly, the legacy media's domination of the political debate has been broken, and social conservatives are finding ways to use the Internet and talk radio to counter the false messages and myths of the liberal commentariat that, in the past, went unchallenged.
  2. Being passionate for -- and willing to work and sacrifice for -- their values is characteristic of social conservative voters.  Social conservatives make up a significant percentage of the Tea Party movement that has been at the forefront of the political process in recent months.  Such a voting bloc cannot be ignored because of the certainty of our passionate get-out-the-vote participation in primary and general elections, but also because we are willing to work and sacrifice for what we believe.  With 33 Senate seats up for grabs in 2012, the Democrats will have to defend 23 while the Republicans must defend only 10, giving conservatives the hope that, come 2012, a Republican majority is possible.  Such information is powerfully motivating when it means increased conservative power on Capitol Hill.
  3. Social conservatives are important for our sheer numbers.  The former pollster for ABC, Gary Langer, reported in 2008 that "self-identified evangelical Christians constituted 44 percent of all Republican presidential primary voters."  Further, evangelicals were decisive in numerous states: we represented a majority of the primary voters in 11 out of 29 states that conducted exit polls; we were 60 percent of the vote in Iowa and South Carolina; and, in 10 other states, evangelicals were between 33 and 46 percent of the vote.  Similar turnouts can be expected in 2012.
  4. Social conservative issues are pivotal -- the hot-button issues ­­-- in today's political debates.  While everyone is talking about the depressed condition of the economy, and polls show social issues much lower on voters' hierarchy of issues, there is no question that abortion, so-called same-sex "marriage," and the potential for the next president to appoint at least one Supreme Court justice (four of the seven current justices are over 70) loom large in the news, in legislation, and in people's concerns.  Dozens of states have pending legislation regarding abortion, with the Guttmacher Institute reporting that 49 states introduced close to 1,000 measures related to reproduction during the first quarter of 2011.  While the strong campaign to block same-sex "marriage" in New York failed, traditional marriage referendums have prevailed in 29 of the 31 states where laws now define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
  5. Republican politicians who advocate moving beyond "controversial" social issues have found their position to be a political "kiss of death."  When Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) called on conservatives to declare a "truce" on social issues and "agree to disagree," he clearly "shot himself in the foot" and ended his presidential prospects.  Daniels' early demise was a stern warning to GOP presidential hopefuls that they cannot thumb their noses at social conservatives' concerns.

To summarize, Americans are deeply troubled by the financial crisis that affects each of us and threatens our nation's economic security.  We are equally disturbed by the worsening moral climate under the radical left policies of President Obama and the liberal elites who both deny and seek to undermine the nation's Judeo-Christian foundation and heritage.  The nation has rarely seen a voting public more motivated to bring back fiscal stability and sound moral principles to the public square.

Liberals, especially liberal women, appear to be so strongly focused on the single issue of preserving the legal status of abortion that everything else is secondary to them, so much so that they stand behind misogynist politicians as long as those politicians sing the pro-choice song.  And liberal politicians may worship at the altar of power to the point that they will take any position that they think will get them elected.  Given the media's devotion to the moral relativism that is foundational to the liberal worldview, it is not surprising that they do not -- indeed, cannot -- understand social conservatives' thinking and peddle false messages to the effect that social issues have lost their significance.

While economic concerns are at the forefront of social conservatives' thinking, that does not mean that we are about to abandon our deeply held moral beliefs regarding issues like the sanctity of life and marriage.  We are fully capable of balancing our immediate concern about the economy and out-of-control big government with our longer-term commitment to the moral and spiritual concerns that are foundational and give meaning to our lives.  Political leaders who do not understand our devotion to principle will not receive our support, without which (as the data clearly show) they cannot be elected.

Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D. is Director and Senior Fellow, The Beverly LaHaye Institute, Concerned Women for America.

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