Social conservatives and irrelevant solutions

Well, David Boaz at Cato and I may share very few opinions, but I always appreciate a good smack-down:

Social conservatives talk about real problems but offer irrelevant solutions. They act like the man who searched for his keys under the streetlight because the light was better there.

Social conservatives tend to talk about issues like abortion and gay rights, stem-cell research and the role of religion “in the public square”: “Those who would have us ignore the battle being fought over life, marriage and religious liberty have forgotten the lessons of history,”said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) at the Values Voter Summit.


Those are reasonable concerns, but they have little or no relationship to abortion or gay marriage. Abortion may be a moral crime, but it isn’t the cause of high government spending or intergenerational poverty. And gay people making the emotional and financial commitments of marriage is not the cause of family breakdown or welfare spending.


Why all the focus on issues that would do nothing to solve the problems of “breakdown of the basic family structure” and “the high cost of a dysfunctional society”? Well, solving the problems of divorce and unwed motherhood is hard. And lots of Republican and conservative voters have been divorced. A constitutional amendment to ban divorce wouldn’t go over very well with even the social-conservative constituency. Far better to pick on a small group, a group not perceived to be part of the Republican constituency, and blame them for social breakdown and its associated costs.

I do have to say, yes, solving the problems of divorce and unwed motherhood is hard. Because where the answers and government intersect are economic, not spiritual, moral or cultural; conservatives depend on confronting spiritual, moral and cultural realms, while ignoring economic solutions.

Better to say then that either:

  • actually solving these problems would kill the impetus for social conservatives to vote, or
  • they don’t actually believe in the things they say that get them elected.*

In case you were wondering: It’s both.

* There’s actually a great profile of Newt Gingrich in last month’s Esquire, in which he is quoted as saying to his wife, after having  been discovered having an affair and speaking on family values in the same week: “It doesn’t matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live.”

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