Mero Moment: Social Issues Divide the Parties

Former Alabama Governor George Wallace is famous for saying in 1968 that there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Republicans and Democrats. Today we hear the same thing from libertarians such as Ron Paul. Certainly on fiscal issues over the last three decades I think that’s been true. In our Age of Entitlements, along with a bipartisan foreign policy based on the idea that America is the world’s policeman, it doesn’t really matter which party is in power.

The truth is that social issues remain the single-most difference between Republicans and Democrats. We don’t hear a lot about social issues at this late date because the two parties are wearing themselves out trying to attract the support of independent voters who claim to not care about social issues. But everyone has an opinion about social issues.

Progressives at the core of the Democratic Party favor aggressive policies to secularize and individualize issues surrounding privacy and sexuality. Conservatives at the core of the Republican Party favor equally aggressive policies to promote principles of virtue in the name of the common good. Libertarians are the same as liberals on social issues, even if only in the name of leaving people alone. And even self-described independents vary greatly in their beliefs about matters such as abortion and gay rights. There is a lot of push and pull going on.

But one thing we do know is that while lots of people might not understand the complexities of Obamacare or how to get the economy back on track, everyone has an opinion about social issues and, very often, those opinions run deep.

Everyone has an opinion about abortion. Either you believe abortion is killing innocent life or it isn’t. Reasonable people can disagree about exceptions to the rule, but everyone knows what the rule is.

Everyone has an opinion about “gay rights,” such as same-sex marriage. Either you believe the law should recognize homosexual relations or it shouldn’t. Again, reasonable people can disagree about cause and effect in those relations but everyone knows where they stand personally about homosexuality.

The social issues still divide the two parties, especially in Utah. There remains a strong likelihood that the Utah Democratic Party will suffer at the polls into the distant future as long as it’s associated in the minds of the Utah electorate with abortion and “gay rights.” And the continuing push for secularization among progressives within the Utah Democratic Party won’t help things. As long as most of these progressives spew animosity toward organized religion, especially The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Utah Democratic Party will remain a serious minority – token moderate candidates belie core party beliefs, and everyone knows it.

There’s a strong correlation between secularization and social issues. The more secular your thinking is, the more likely you’ll strongly support abortion and “gay rights.” And the more strongly you support abortion and “gay rights,” the more likely your politics will remain obscure in Utah.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life just released a study on how one in five adults no longer have a religious affiliation. Pew reports that “the religiously unaffiliated are significantly more likely than the general public to say that abortion should be legal in most or all cases.” Seventy-two percent hold that view compared to only half of the general public. Among atheists and agnostics the number rises to 84 percent.

Interestingly, notwithstanding all of the talk in secular circles about the importance of science and reason in guiding important political decisions, progressive secularists are about as closed-minded and emotional as you can get when it comes to social issues – let’s just blame that on their utilitarian roots to prefer pain management when their pleasure-seeking fails them.

Bottom line for politics is that social issues remain the big difference between the parties and throughout society.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.