Choosing to emphasize one set of issues does not mean abandoning another. It means prioritizing your battles wisely and conducting them on the terrain and timetable of your own choosing. Setting aside the question of whether the term “social issues” refers to anything meaningful (I do not think it does; abortion is a very different kind of issue from gay marriage), we should ask ourselves what a Republican congressional majority in 2015, or a Republican president in 2017, might hope to accomplish on the social-issues front. The stakes are far from negligible: The issue of judicial appointments alone is worth fighting over. But there were a fair number of Rudy Giuliani enthusiasts in 2008 who argued quite convincingly that the socially liberal former New York mayor would probably appoint judges who were equal in their dedication to constitutionalism to any that a Rick Santorum or a Mike Huckabee might appoint, and perhaps judges of a higher quality. Conservatives are likely to get pretty good judges out of any Republican president in the future. But it is not very likely that conservatives in 2015 will be in a position to reverse the advance of gay marriage or to prevent its continued advance. And though I have been accused of offering the counsel of despair on this issue, the state of heterosexual marriage — no-fault divorce, widespread illegitimacy, etc. — renders the gay-marriage fight a lot less urgent. You can’t destroy marriage twice.
If you want to have a Duck Dynasty
election, you need to be able to answer the question of what you can really hope to get out of it.
On the other hand, the chaotic dysfunction of the Affordable Care Act regime presents conservatives with a very attractive opportunity. The Tea Party hates it, libertarians see it as a textbook example of the failure of political steering of economic sectors, spending hawks are terrified by the gushers of money it opens up, the business lobby resents the burdens it puts upon its constituents, the Religious Right recoils from its gross violations of the First Amendment and its forcible subsidy of abortifacients. (There’s probably something in there for the gung-ho military wing of the movement, too, but I can’t think of what it is.) Replacing Obamacare is something all conservatives can agree on, while most of the things we disagree on are beyond our reach at the moment. I’d like to ban abortion in 2015, abolish the IRS, repeal the 17th Amendment, pull our troops out of Europe and South Korea, and reassign everybody at the DEA and ATF to highway trash patrol until we sell off the interstates to private operators. But that is not going to happen.
Undoing Obamacare? That’s possible. Replacing Obamacare with a sensible, market-oriented, consumer-driven model of health care? That’s possible, too, and would provide conservatives with a dramatic example of exactly how and why our philosophy works, not just in the books of F. A. Hayek or in Liberty Fund seminars, but in the real world. Winning is more fun — and winning with a purpose is the best of all.
— Kevin D. Williamson is a roving correspondent for National Review.