Beyond offering Ramesh an “amen,” there’s something to be said about the different attitudes Americans take toward the so-called social issues: abortion, gay marriage, marijuana legalization, etc. As Ramesh points out, attitudes have changed significantly on gay marriage and marijuana, but not on abortion. What conservatives often fail to emphasize, I think, is that abortion is simply in a different category of issues than is gay marriage or marijuana legalization. Not that those latter issues are not important — they certainly are — but they are not life-and-death issues. The marijuana debate is about how much we think it is worth intervening in other people’s lives to police the use of a relatively mild intoxicant; the abortion debate is about what it means to be a human being. To that extent, the entire idea of “the social issues” is probably more harmful than helpful. Abortion and gay marriage are not even roughly comparable.
It should not be too difficult for somebody who has my views on marijuana to be part of the same party or political movement as somebody who has Mike Huckabee’s. But it would be very difficult for somebody with my views on abortion to get behind somebody who has Susan Collins’s daft views on abortion. We might be able to accommodate the occasional Maine lady, but we don’t want to see her advancing beyond that, either. It’s a line in the sand in a way that marijuana isn’t.
Gay marriage is a little different in that it is a line in the sand for some people, though I am baffled as to why. But I cannot see how the Republican party has anything to lose by being forthrightly and assertively pro-life: The poll numbers don’t look too bad for that position, and it seems to me very unlikely that voters for whom abortion is the most important issue are going to vote for a conservative party in any numbers under any plausible circumstances, regardless of whether it softened or abandoned its position on the question of abortion.
The most important reason to stick to the pro-life position is of course that it is the right position.