In these difficult economic times, both sides of the political aisle are desperate to convince the American people that they are the party with the best plan for pulling America out of recession. As the GOP field of serious presidential contenders finally begins to clarify, the prevailing assumption is that whoever challenges President Obama for the Presidency must maintain a laser-like focus on fiscal issues and leave social issues on the back burner for another election.
Governor Mitch Daniels was among the first to offer this observation, calling for a "truce" on social issues heading into 2012. Because the economy has dominated the news for the last four years, it's easy to understand why some might draw this conclusion, but they are wrong.
True, we haven't been hearing much about traditional "values voter" fodder of late. Tea Party talking points have become de rigueur in many conservative circles, where pocket Constitutions are the hottest accessory and defending the sanctity of the free market has become a 24/7 job. This focus on all things economic, however, should not be interpreted as a lack of concern for the moral health of America. One could make the case, in fact, that our current economic woes stem from the gradual but steady loss of a firm moral compass guiding our decisions, both private and corporate. Without the moderating, civilizing forces of family, church, and community, it is all too easy to give ourselves over to our baser impulses such as greed, corruption, slothfulness, and self indulgence.
The reason that so-called values issues aren't currently in the foreground of the debate is that in the Republican primary field (the only place there is a pending contest) there is generally a consensus about these issues. Allowing for some subtle differences, the current GOP field of would-be nominees espouse similar views on abortion and marriage. Since politics is all about distinguishing yourself from your opponents, it would be counterintuitive for these individuals to spend much time discussing the topics they agree on. It doesn't make for a very interesting debate, and is no way to distinguish yourself to the voters.
It's encouraging that there appears to be so much consensus within the GOP on social issues. There was a time when the party was decisively divided on these questions. It appears, however, that advocates of life and traditional marriage (within the GOP, at least) have made the case and prevailed.
The economy might be on everyone's mind – and every candidate's lips – for now, but once the Republican nominee is chosen and the presidential race begins, the differences between our Commander in Chief and his conservative opponent on social issues will be cast in stark relief. No one has forgotten the President's record on abortion, or his ambivalent response to the California Supreme Court's railroading of the Proposition 8 decision.
You will see a resurgence of these issues in the run up to 2012, and their impact on the outcome of the election will be more significant than anyone might imagine. The President will not be given a free pass, and no Republican will be permitted to get by with any hamfisted "truce" designed to avoid the tough questions. The same individuals who have shaped recent congressional elections through their commitment to a restoration of fiscal discipline and constitutional integrity will fight doubly hard to ensure that the sanctity of life and marriage are upheld.
"Values voters" have not lost their edge or enthusiasm. They have a vision for a virtuous, just, and moral America, they are willing to fight for it, and unlike many of their ideological counterparts, they don't stay home on election day.