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Culture

Republican Politicians Need a Spinal Transplant, and Four Other Lessons from the Battle of Indiana

With the rhetorical smoke now clearing from the battlefields of Indiana and Arkansas, it’s time for an after-action review. Herewith are a few lessons learned:

1. On culture-war matters, Republicans need a spinal transplant. If the mainstream media and the social-justice warriors (but I’m being redundant) kick a bit of sand in their faces, they retreat — even from popular positions. As Ramesh has noted, large majorities of Americans don’t want to see citizens penalized or fined for refusing to participate in gay weddings, yet Republicans caved anyway — from laws that wouldn’t even clearly or necessarily protect the rare objecting baker, florist, or photographer. The laws would simply give those vendors a fighting chance. And of course the retreats are hardly confined to same-sex marriage. Don’t forget the House Republicans’ dreadful display the very day of the March for Life, when they withdrew a popular pro-life bill in the face of inconsequential political opposition. 

2. Yet when big business says, “jump,” Republicans jump. I note with interest that just as elected Republicans retreat with extreme speed on life and religious liberty, they stand like Leonidas at Thermopylae to block politically popular increases in the federal minimum wage. What’s the common factor in the religious liberty rout and the minimum-wage stand? The corporate will. I’m not yet ready to declare – as Rod Dreher does – that the battle between Democrats and Republicans is the battle of the “party of lust” versus the “party of greed,” but that’s what this week certainly looked like.

3. The conservative grassroots have greater real-world power than leftist bullies. As of the moment I’m writing this blog (the numbers are skyrocketing by the hour), the gofundme page launched to relieve the financial losses to Memories Pizza — after it was forced to at least temporarily shut its doors in the face of leftist threats — has raised $502,000 in just one day. The new cultural reality is that leftist “social justice” attacks now trigger overwhelming conservative responses — from the Chick-fil-A ”buycott,” to the failed attacks on Hobby Lobby, to the standing-room-only crowds at American Sniper. The political battlefield isn’t the only battlefield.

4. Conservative intellectuals and conservative activists are digging in for the long fight. I know I’m biased, but National Review has posted one great piece after another. God bless Dana Loesch for taking the lead in reaching out to Memories Pizza. Ross Douthat has been invaluable from his lonely outpost at the New York Times. There is simply too much good material to name-check it all. But of course leave it to Yuval Levin to encapsulate precisely why millions of us simply will not yield:

Religious freedom is not a freedom to do what you want, but a freedom to do what you must. It’s not a freedom from constraint, but a recognition of a constraint higher than even the law and therefore prior to it and deserving of some leeway from legal obligations when reasonably possible.

Or, put another way: Here we stand. We can do no other.

5. There is much cause for optimism. Yes, it is deeply discouraging to see the mob at work. Yes, it is deeply discouraging to see Republicans respond quickly to placate the social-justice Left and big business. But — with remarkably few exceptions — politicians aren’t leaders, but followers, and in the long run they will ultimately bend to (and reflect) the will of the intellectual, activist, and grassroots base of the political movement that put them in power. Things are likely to get worse before they get better (I’ve long been of the opinion that “winter is coming“), but there is no season better than the Easter season to remind us of our ultimate hope. Jay Nordlinger’s citation of Mark 15 was particularly poignant:

And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself, and come down from the cross.

Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save. Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.

The mob mocked, yet in three days Christ rose — triumphing not over contemporary politics but over death itself. And weeks later, many members of that same mocking mob worshipped the very Christ they crucified. Where there is Christ, there is hope — for the church that follows him and for the mob that opposes him.

Happy Easter, readers. He is risen indeed.

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