More on the Democratic Offensive

by Peter Augustine Lawler

So, according to the old-fashioned compassionate conservative Pete Wehner:

Several weeks ago I met with an influential Republican lawmaker to discuss economic matters. Yet I found myself raising another set of issues: Republicans need to prepare (especially in 2016) for an assault by Democrats on a range of cultural and quasi-cultural issues, including contraception, gay marriage, abortion, religious liberties, immigration, evolution, and climate change.

What I told this GOP lawmaker is that what cultural issues were to Republicans in the 1980s — think welfare, law and order, and George H. W. Bush’s criticism of Michael Dukakis over the Pledge of Allegiance — is what they are to Democrats in the 2010s. This conversation took place before the Supreme Court ruling on the Hobby Lobby case, but the reaction to it confirmed the observation. Democrats, in their frenzied overreaction to the Court ruling — none more overwrought than that of Hillary Clinton — clearly believe this is an issue that will help them politically.

In many places, they’re probably right.

The new situation, in this view: The social/cultural issues used to, on balance, benefit the Republicans. But now, the Democrats believe, they benefit them. So the Democrats are launching a new offensive, which includes, for example, the strategic overreaction to the narrow Hobby Lobby ruling. Although polls show that people initially support the Court’s defense of religious liberty, the Democrats believe they can rebrand it as the first strike in a war on the freedom to use contraception. So the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has become controversial and now can be repealed, giving government more leeway into banishing religious opinion from the public square. The Democrats can then explain that the only way to protect the freedom not to be reproduce through contraception is to be “pro-choice” on abortion and same-sex marriage. And the same people who are pro-life also deny evolution and climate change; they may say they have arguments, but they’re really trumping science with the oppressive willfulness of faith. 

In almost every case, the point is to brand all those who dissent on the trending position on any of the above issues as religious fanatics driven by irrational animosity. Now I might begin by saying, with Walker Percy, that, of course, it’s almost certain that evolution happened, but the homogeneous theories of evolution put forward by evolutionary psychologists don’t do well at all at explaining much of observed human thought and behavior. Not only that, those theories deny the reality of personal autonomy, the mysterious freedom of personal identity so celebrated by our Supreme Court. Everyone with eyes to see knows that the so-called existentialist philosophers and novelists account better for the predicament of particular persons born to trouble better than do our popularizing scientists. E. O. Wilson, for example, always nails it when it comes to ants but is obviously weaker than second-rate novelists when it comes to ever really describing accurately what people think and do. So a real scientist would aim to put together what’s partly true about evolutionary psychology with what’s partly true about existentialism, and any genuine empiricist can see that there’s room for belief in a personal and relational Creator, although there’s no necessity for such belief. 

The big issue: How to turn that not-necessarily-religious account of the limits of evolutionary theory into a brand that can prevail in the democratic political marketplace.

I will deal with the rest of Pete’s list later.

If Pete is right, it would seem that the Republicans, with victory in mind, should become more consistently libertarian. That is, pro-choice across the board. But there are problems: Libertarian economists, especially after a few drinks, say that they would abolish all political borders and just let people travel freely from place to place searching for work and pursuing happiness. Tell me that position is actually popular! It would reduce everyone to nothing but displaced consumers and producers who sell their labor piecemeal for a price. We would finally have the “capitalism” described, with good reason, negatively by Marx. Up until now, Marx could justly stand accused of exaggerating polemically to achieve a completely unnecessary and impossible revolution.

Not only that, we have to deal with the fact that, as I’ve said time and again, candid libertarian futurology, such as that of Tyler Cowen, doesn’t really project that lives for most people will get better. The general view that all you have to do is cut taxes and take out all the regulations and things get better for everyone isn’t that credible now. Pure libertarians don’t care all that much. For them liberty is the goal, and the enemy is the envious collectivism of democracy.

And on entitlements, after all, most people are now conservatives in the precise sense: They don’t believe the progressive baloney of the Democrats about a bigger and better state. But they want to keep what they have now, and they aren’t thrilled with the new birth of freedom in which everyone will simply be on his or her own. They aren’t embracing the libertarian, progressive vision on unfettered, postpolitical techno-freedom either.

Just a few thoughts. More later. Divide up into small groups and discuss.