Post-election ruminations

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And they are revealing. Not only about what went wrong for champions of one candidate, much of one party and many advocates of important causes, but how to learn from that. High level disagreement there…

Take this Public Discourse piece.

A common trope in social policy debates is to claim that the public’s changing opinion on the policy at stake, rather than the policy’s moral or substantive justifications, merits changing the platform of one’s preferred political party. This notion seems recently to have taken root on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, and several commentators have reacted.

Consider its November 8 editorial extolling referendums on marriage. The editors argue that views on “gay marriage” are changing so that “after 32 defeats at the ballot box, a gay marriage initiative was adopted by voters,” which shows that Americans are “capable of changing their views and the laws on gay marriage.” They praise the referendum process over judicial fiat, but their implicit premise seems to be that the policy change is a good one. Any substantive arguments to support this view are missing; what remains is only the claim of an inexorable shift in public opinion.

Now there’s a good point. I keep saying that we need a robust and honest public airing of different views on a number of social issues and public policies, with opposite arguments made and defended, so people can engage the fullness of the issues and the ramifications of their outcomes. You know, follow an idea through to its logical conclusion. Engage critical thinking. We’re not getting much of that in any widely accessed public forum, with few exceptions.

Ross Douthat comments on all this, and does some dot-connecting in this op-ed piece.

Liberals look at the Obama majority and see a coalition bound together by enlightened values — reason rather than superstition, tolerance rather than bigotry, equality rather than hierarchy. But it’s just as easy to see a coalition created by social disintegration and unified by economic fear.

Consider the Hispanic vote. Are Democrats winning Hispanics because they put forward a more welcoming face than Republicans do — one more in keeping with America’s tradition of assimilating migrants yearning to breathe free? Yes, up to a point. But they’re also winning recent immigrants because those immigrants often aren’t assimilating successfully — or worse, are assimilating downward, thanks to rising out-of-wedlock birthrates and high dropout rates. The Democratic edge among Hispanics depends heavily on these darker trends: the weaker that families and communities are, the more necessary government support inevitably seems.

Likewise with the growing number of unmarried Americans, especially unmarried women. Yes, social issues like abortion help explain why these voters lean Democratic. But the more important explanation is that single life is generally more insecure and chaotic than married life, and single life with children — which is now commonplace for women under 30 — is almost impossible to navigate without the support the welfare state provides.

Or consider the secular vote, which has been growing swiftly and tilts heavily toward Democrats. The liberal image of a non-churchgoing American is probably the “spiritual but not religious” seeker, or the bright young atheist reading Richard Dawkins. But the typical unchurched American is just as often an underemployed working-class man, whose secularism is less an intellectual choice than a symptom of his disconnection from community in general.

What unites all of these stories is the growing failure of America’s local associations — civic, familial, religious — to foster stability, encourage solidarity and make mobility possible…

This is a great flaw in the liberal vision, because whatever role government plays in prosperity, transfer payments are not a sufficient foundation for middle-class success. It’s not a coincidence that the economic era that many liberals pine for — the great, egalitarian post-World War II boom — was an era that social conservatives remember fondly as well: a time of leaping church attendance, rising marriage rates and birthrates, and widespread civic renewal and engagement.

No such renewal seems to be on the horizon. That isn’t a judgment on the Obama White House, necessarily. But it is a judgment on a certain kind of blithe liberal optimism, and the confidence with which many Democrats assume their newly emerged majority is a sign of progress rather than decline.

As for conservatives, they’re having a necessary and not necessarily bad wrestling match within their ranks over big ideas and changing realities and criticism both constructive and very unhelpful.

Back to that Public Discourse piece:

To the extent then that the Republican Party appears to abandon its rightward stance on social issues; to the extent that Republicans are afraid to defend their views on the value of life, on religious freedom, and on marriage, they cede back the Reagan Democrats and their children to the Democrats, and they doom themselves to minority status.

These practical realities have not been lost on conservatives, and several important commentators have sounded the alarm. At First Things Matthew Franck cogently compares the Wall Street Journal’s urgings that we abandon our social principles to the cynical political maneuvering of Stephen Douglas on the slavery issue a century and a half ago. Franck notes that had Abraham Lincoln succumbed to the apparent expediency of falling into line with Douglas’s arguments, slavery likely would have persisted…

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, policy has worked, does work, and will work best when it is founded on moral and practical arguments. The Republican Party’s defense of freedom and dignity is based on both.

And more, because as Eric Metaxas puts it so well in so few words, logic is not enough.

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