Yesterday I commented on Gov. Mitch Daniels’s suggestion that the next president should call a “truce” on social issues while he attends to the pressing problems of the national debt and the economy. Let me add one more point: The condition of the country seemed more parlous in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many people worried that the country was ungovernable. (The fact that we hadn’t had a full two-term presidency in 20 years contributed to this sense.) We seemed to be slipping behind the Soviets both in territory and even morale. We were bewildered about stagflation and going through a deeper recession than the one we have now.
Under the circumstances, it made perfect sense for Ronald Reagan not to make the social issues his top priority. But he neither softened his positions on them nor declared a truce. He did what he could on those issues while concentrating on the reinvigoration of the country, the resumption of growth, and the defeat of the Soviets. Certainly there were social conservatives who wanted him to do more. But nobody thought that Reagan had elevated inaction on these issues to the level of principle or promise. And whatever else one thinks of the Reagan presidency, it is hard to argue that his efforts on the social issues got in the way of his economic and foreign-policy agenda.