With Rick Santorum’s late surge to the front of the Republican field comes an unwelcome guest at the party: social issues. In a pivotal election, in which the relationship between government and its citizens – the core issue between freedom and equality – ought to be the Big Question being debated, social issues threaten a fatal diversion.
Having said that, however, Santorum is right that some of these questions bear examination. It is an article of faith (one should forgive the expression) among progressives that many of the social developments of the last several decades are unalloyed positives, and to question them is to wish for a return to medieval norms of behavior. And yet, when Santorum puts them up to the spotlight he touches a chord that millions find sympathetic.
And it is either a coincidence or a diabolically Machiavellian conspiracy on the part of David Axelrod that these issues have cropped up several times in the last few weeks in circumstances totally separate from the GOP campaign. First, we had the liberal Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco (the court that comfortably holds the record for rulings overturned by the Supreme Court) declaring that it is unconstitutional for the California citizenry to amend their state constitution to affirm the traditional norms of marriage. This is the sort of thing that drives conservatives crazy, that two lifetime judges could overrule the expressed wishes, fully in accordance with constitutional procedures, of 7,000,000 Californians.
This ruling may go to the Supreme Court, and depending on Anthony Kennedy’s frame of mind that day, could be upheld. But that would by no means put an end to the issue, any more than Roe v Wade settled the abortion controversy.
Next we had l’affaire Komen, in which the well-meaning but politically naive Susan G. Komen Foundation had the temerity to think that they had the right to decide which organizations to support with their breast cancer research dollars. In accordance with their rules, they suspended support to Planned Parenthood, because that group was under investigation for possible misuse of federally allocated funds and failure to report child abuse.
But once PP’s allies in Congress, television, the press, the blogosphere, and the rest of the liberal universe got done with them, not only had Komen recanted their heresy, they had also changed their rules to allow them to continue to fund PP, and had sacked the official behind the decision. Turns out that you can’t say no to Planned Parenthood. It’s like a Roach Motel for donors.
This is how the alternative universe of liberalism works: while they applaud themselves as being open minded and tolerant, they are precisely the opposite when one of their core orthodoxies is the least bit threatened (Komen’s contribution to PP was a few hundred thousand out of a billion-dollar budget). The irony is that the accusation against Komen was that they were bullied by nefarious right-wing eminences (never identified) into defunding PP, when the true bullying took place in the full-on charge of the howling liberal Comanches.
Then came the issue of Obamacare, contraceptives and the Church. I wrote about this last week, but the latest is that a widening circle of academics and religious leaders have decided the Administration’s fig leaf doesn’t cover very much and have come out against it. This issue is not over, and may turn out to be very damaging to Obama come November.
All this serves as a fascinating background tapestry to Rick Santorum’s unabashed social conservativism. It is largely unchallenged that his brand of belief-based principles are out of step with the vast middle of the American public, but that remains to be seen, I think. He certainly is getting lots of support in surprising places, and right now in head-to-head matchups he beats Obama more soundly in swing states than does Governor Romney.
It goes without saying that the media will distort Santorum and his views. Certainly the charge is already all over the airwaves that he wants to outlaw contraception. Patent nonsense, of course, but that’s what happens when you challenge the orthodoxies.
Santorum is on solid ground when he says he wants to “talk about” these issues, because they deserve a conversation that has had little currency of late. To focus on just one – there is no question at all that the Pill and feminism have drastically changed the lives of women in this country. There is a strong argument, however, that these changes have been a disaster for women as much as a boon.
I would argue that the real beneficiaries of the birth control revolution have been men. Whereas once the accepted path to carnal pleasure was either through the marital bed or the paid services of a prostitute, suddenly men found themselves with Nirvana – the prospect of sex freely given, with no commitment necessary and without the risk of their amore finding herself in the family way. As night follows day, one direct result of this was a lessening in accepted norms of romantic commitment. In short, it’s harder for women to find a man who wants to settle down.
Are women better served by this? Perhaps it’s no big deal for those for whom feminism has opened new pathways for business and professional success. But even they ultimately find themselves conflicted: they can’t put off the decision to have a family indefinitely, as their potential partners can.
But the undeniable losers in the sexual revolution are their sisters from the poor side of town. For despite the easy availability of contraception, more and more young women find themselves pregnant and giving birth without the support and assistance of a man. According to the Center for Disease Control, 40% of the nation’s babies are born to unwed mothers.
The new mores have made casual, commitment-free sex so much the norm that when a man gets a woman pregnant there is little social pressure for him to take up any responsibilities for the resulting child. Indeed, because of the Pill, men can dismiss the baby as their partner’s fault for failing to take precautions.
So it’s usually the woman who has to raise the child by herself. I’d be willing to bet that she would rather have had a bit less women’s liberation if it meant having a husband to help provide and do the work. Feminism may be fine for the fine folk who can afford to have children when they want them, but for millions of women its fruit means poverty for themselves and their children.
Dan Quayle was ridiculed by the swells of the media world when he said Murphy Brown set a terrible example when the TV character had a child by herself. By today’s lights, he was prescient.
Of course, Santorum doesn’t want to outlaw contraception. But he is absolutely right that we need to spend some serious time looking at ourselves in the mirror and asking questions about personal responsibility, the value of solid families, and, yes, morality. We will not agree on these questions, nor should we. But to fail to ask them, to blithely carry on with our current disregard for the impact of our “liberation” on society, is to condemn future generations to poverty.
The Catholic Church is widely regarded as being hopelessly out of date in its opposition to contraception. It is just possible that their view is in fact the one that is more humane.