February 24, 2012

No matter the ultimate destination of Rick Santorum's current surge in popularity in the GOP presidential nomination battle, his rise to prominence is sparking a renewed interest in "the social issues," helped along by President Obama's latest bureaucratic salvo against religious institutions.

There are two important points to keep in mind here as the campaign goes forward. First, the conventional wisdom has it that Republicans should at all costs avoid embracing the social issues - pro-family, pro-life and pro-faith-based institutions - because, otherwise, they will lose the all-important independent voter.

Better to keep the focus exclusively on the economic issues where Obama is most vulnerable and which most voters see as their top-priority issues. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels' familiar suggestion that a "truce" be declared for now between social conservatives and economic conservatives, with the concerns of the former assemblies taking a temporary backseat to those of the latter groups, epitomizes this approach.

But the reality is, as supply-side economist and gold standard guru Jeffrey Bell reminds us in his forthcoming book - "The Case for Polarized Politics," which is ably described Sunday in The Wall Street Journal's Weekend Interview by James Taranto* - Republicans are most successful in national elections when both sets of issues are prominently addressed, with neither given prominence over the other, and in conjunction with a third element, national security concerns.

In the WSJ interview, Bell tells Taranto that: "Social issues were nonexistent in the period 1932 to 1964. The Republican Party won two presidential elections out of nine, and they had the Congress for all of four years in that entire period. . . . When social issues came into the mix—I would date it from the 1968 election . . . the Republican Party won seven out of 11 presidential elections."

This fact ought not surprise anybody familiar with the notion of GOP fusionism originally prescribed by National Review editor Frank Meyer in the early 1960s. Republican prospects depend mainly on the ability of the party's presidential candidates to unite economic, national defense and social conservatives in one grand coalition. Failing to appeal to any one of these three legs to the stool results in defeat.

From this perspective then, Santorum's embrace of social issues is a strength for the GOP, not a weakness, something to be heartened by, not threatened. He's already strong on national defense issues, so his biggest vulnerability may well be on the economic side where his views have a distinctly mercantilist tone in some areas.

The second point here - also made prominently by Bell, as quoted by Taranto - is that nobody should be surprised that Obama initiatives so often have an anti-religious cast to them. Consider the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) recent assertion of authority to tell religious denominations who they can hire and fire as ministers. The EEOC met with a unanimous rejection by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Even so, the overwhelming EEOC loss didn't prevent Obama's Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, from issuing a proposed Obamacare rule forcing religious institutions, including churches, schools, charities and hospitals, to provide free birth control benefits in the health insurance they make available to employees, even if that coverage include abortifacients like the Morning-After pill that, for many, violates fundamental religious doctrines.

The HHS rule - including the subsequent "compromise" version - clearly violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment and was greeted with an explosion of opposition from Catholic bishops, Protestant ministers, Jewish rabbis and legions of their followers in the pews. Odds are it will get a similar reaction in the Supreme Court as the administration's EEOC initiative.

But the Left has been attacking traditional religious and family institutions for centuries, so, in relentlessly pushing these kinds of anti-faith initiatives, Obama is merely being true to his ideological roots. He is very much a product of the radical center of the Democratic Party, with its origins in the far-left student movements of the 1960s.

The intensity of reaction to the HHS rule likely confirmed for Obama and his strategists the rightness of their effort. As Bell puts it to Taranto, "they were determined to push it through, because it's their irreplaceable ideological core. . . . The Left keeps putting these issues into the mix, and they do it very deliberately, and I think they do it as a matter of principle."

The opening line of Jean Jacque Rousseau's The Social Contract tells the story here: "Man is born free, but everywhere is in chains." With that sentence, Rousseau captured the essential principle driving the Left's view of society, economics, law, everything: In the state of nature where men are born, complete freedom reigns.

But when men organize themselves into societies, convention (also known as habit or tradition) suffocates this natural freedom, making men slaves to kings, priests and tradition. Thus, the fundamental goal of left-wing ideology is always, in one way or another and to a greater or lesser degree, to liberate men from convention.

The virulence with which leftists have so long pursued their goals - particularly with regard to social issues and institutions - was perfectly captured long ago in the words of 18th century theorist and French Revolution light Denis Diderot: "Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."

Remember that the next time you hear talk of a "compromise" on the latest anti-faith, anti-family initiative from the Left. As a prudential matter, of course, all but the most radical of them will try to disassociate themselves from such sentiments (Recall Obama's distancing response when Rev. Jeremiah Wright's views became an issue during the 2008 presidential campaign).

But sooner or later, leftists like Obama - as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, etc. etc. - always push for more and more regulation. And off at the end, their ultimate purpose is to subordinate traditional institutions entirely to the bureaucratic dictates of the all-powerful state.

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.