Ross Douthat appears to have discovered — admittedly, somewhat late — that America’s culture war, and the Republican Party’s twenty-year-long obsession with rolling back social progress, might somehow be distracting them from the work of forging a smaller, more financially responsible federal government (gasp!). This, at least, for Douthat, is the import of David Cameron’s success at cutting the size of the British government, where all American “conservatives” including Gingrich and Reagan, political orthodoxy notwithstanding, have failed.
It’s nice to think that this model could work here. But Cameron’s coalition government isn’t just ignoring social issues — it’s entrenching a continental consensus that’s “far left” by American standards. The Tory side of the coalition is, from all I see, surrendering any attempt to push social issues rightwards, to instead focus on building the broad base and political will necessary to do important reform work. This is a selflessness that the American right has never displayed, and which its base’s rightward move likely forecloses. For confirmation we need look no farther than Republican rhetoric on the health care bill. When you can’t debate fiscal responsibility except with socially-loaded rhetoric (“socialism!” “death panels!”), something’s gone wrong, and some principle’s been swallowed by another.