Towards a Post-Culture War GOP?

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.


  1. “…obsession with rolling back social progress”

    Not everyone believes it is ‘progress’. And I’m curious as to what, beyond abortion, has been an attempted ‘rollback’?

    1. James F · ·

      Mike, I’d say mainly LGBT-related civil rights issues (DADT, ENDA, marriage equality), with ballot measures like Prop 8 and Question 1 most accurately fitting the description of “rollbacks.” Then there’s the unfortunate infestation of the GOP by creationists, who want to roll back scientific thought to at least the 1920s. I’m going to hazard a guess that the LGBT issues will be major wins for the progressive side (for want of a better word, since some old-school conservatives like Ted Olson are on that side) and huge defeats for the Religious Right over the next several years. Unfortunately, I don’t expect to live to see the effective end of creationism, to my beloved country’s shame. Furthermore, the abortion issue will never die. All that can be said is that I think there is some common ground in both sides (with exceptions, of course) being happy to see the number of abortions decrease.

      1. I’m not inclined to say opposition to SSM is a rollback. The fact is it has never existed so it’s really just opposition to certain new rights for gay couples.

        I think you have a point on creationism, though, again, is it a rollback or something else? They haven’t actively sought to end the teaching of evolution, but rather they are trying to muddy the waters with the Intelligent Design nonsense. I prefer not to think of education as a social issue though. IMO is should be fairly black and white and not left up to the whims of the populace the way other true social issues are. Science is science and we all know ID is not.

  2. 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.

    You need look no further than my comment exchanges with Phillip to see what happens when you try to debate fiscal responsibility with something someone’s chosen to frame as a social issue. Nobody wants to hear that the fiscally responsible thing to do is let people die when their social ideology is founded on the idea that everybody matters.

    1. While I don’t agree with Steve’s extreme view, I think he raises a good point which is that there is a moral component to fiscal debate more often than not.

    2. ya know I was going to sit this one out . . . first, I do happen to think everyone matters, and that’s not actually a liberal position. Most anti-abortion protesters, FWIW think everyone matters, and they can hardly be labeled liberals.

      Second, I don’t believe there is a lot of evidence that its “fiscally responsible” to let sick folks die just because their care would meet a certain and probably statistically biased threshold. We used to that in this country – about a century ago. No one claimed, in looking historically, that there was any benefit to perpetuating that system.

      And yes, there is a moral component to any fiscal debate in the policy arena. the problem of late is that those on both sides of the aisle seem to think their morality is the right one, and pay no attention to the actual consequences of that rightness. Deficits were good when Reagan ran them in a healthy economy, but bad when Obama runs them to prevent a Depression. Right.

      I’d also add that sometimes spending money on a national social good is still fiscally responsible, even if the benefit of that good is second or third order economically. Just because there is not always a profit to be made doesn’t mean it’s “wrong.”

  3. Oh my. Perhaps the word should be “fiscal responsibility within the boundaries of some objective morality.”

    1. If Moral Foundations Theory is correct, “objective morality” doesn’t exist and what a liberal considers “objective morality” will be based on a fraction of the psychological bases for moral thinking (a conservative’s ideas are, of course, based on a different fraction of the psychological bases).

      1. Yeah, so what? People see the world differently. Woohoo!

        And yes Ames, I’m being snarky. Sue me.

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