At CPAC, new kind of culture war

You know things have taken a turn for the dramatic when a Baptist preacher declares, “Thanks to Obama, we are … Continued

You know things have taken a turn for the dramatic when a Baptist preacher declares, “Thanks to Obama, we are all Catholics now.” And not just any Baptist preacher, but Mike Huckabee himself.

That happened on Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference here in Washington, D.C. Only a month before, the true believers among conservative pundits had dismissed Rick Santorum as more of a Catholic than a conservative.

Recent events have again brought the culture wars to the forefront. At the leading front of the battle, the Department of Health and Human Services was to require Catholic institutions to fund sterilization, abortifacients and birth control in direct contravention of the Catholic faith. President Obama appeared to shift course on Friday, but Catholic leaders did not see enough course correction.


View Photo Gallery: Conservative politicians and opinion leaders speak to activists at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

Separately, the world’s leading breast cancer charity, the Komen Foundation, defunded — and then about-faced and re-funded — Planned Parenthood, the number one abortion provider in the United States. Public outcry ensued in both directions.

Meanwhile, the “Occupy Wall Street” movement has focused on our current economic difficulties. (In another era, they called it national “malaise.”) Turmoil riles both the social and the economic spheres.

Documenting the linkage between the problems in these two areas, Charles Murray’s new book, “Coming Apart,” underscores the social underpinnings of the economic great divide between his “cognitive elite” and the rest of America.

Murray argues that the elite fail to preach what they practice. They espouse license while living orderly, traditional, and highly successful lives. Meanwhile, Murray’s so-called “lower class” suffers slow-motion social collapse after abandoning respect for marriage, work ethic, law, and faith.

CPAC, on the other hand, saw no shortage of preaching about these practices. Speakers at the conference consistently underscored the link that Murray has observed between moral and economic distress.

Conservative political commentator S.E. Cupp highlighted the phenomenon of moral and macroeconomic convergence. Speaking with me at CPAC, she outlined an idea she considers “revolutionary for conservatives” — that “economic issues are also moral issues, and moral decisions have economic consequences.”

The economy is front and center, but social and economic issues are intertwined. In fact, we now find ourselves on the other side of James Carville’s famous war-room sign from the 1992 election. Carville’s three points have new relevance from the opposite direction: “Change vs. more of the same. The economy, stupid. Don’t forget health care.”

Chip Somodevilla

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 10: Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (4L) is joined on stage by his family as he delivers remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Marriott Wardman Park February 10, 2012 in Washington, DC.

Check, check, and check. All three of these themes resounded at CPAC, with moral issues as the common undercurrent, and a new alliance between social and fiscal conservatives.

The abortion issue loomed large. Newt Gingrich promised “no money for abortions overseas, period” and that he would “repeal every act of religious bigotry by Obama.”

Fighting “religious bigotry” formed a common bond, uniting Mormons, Baptists, and Catholics against the Obama administration. Freedom and economic liberty were similar themes.

“Obama is the conservative movement’s top recruiter,” Romney said, “Turns out he really is a good community organizer.”

Santorum took the stage, joined by his wife and six children, to say that the debate over HHS’s mandate is about economic liberty, not contraception. Ann Coulter agreed: “It is a freedom issue,” she said, not a Catholic issue.

Huckabee lamented an absence of human capital and its impact on our economy. He noted that people speak of importing labor today despite the absence of 50 million people who could have existed but do not since 1973, when the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade.

On the other side of the jobs ledger, Mitt Romney touted one industry he proudly thwarted. “I prevented Massachusetts from being the Las Vegas of gay marriage,” he said.

On a panel about protecting marriage, Phyllis Schlafly, the grand dame of the conservative movement, reiterated the “phony divide between social and economic issues.” Echoing many of the speakers, Schlafly put it bluntly: “Absence of marriage causes poverty.”

With Rick Santorum and Paul Ryan finding common ground on the convergence of morality and the economy, Cupp concluded, “If that is not a culture war of a new kind, I don’t know what it is.”

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  • WmarkW

    These types of conservative have it backwards. It’s the poor economic shape of the poor which causes family collapse, as per Murray’s book.

    Conservatives like to laud the years 1945-65 for their strong family and community values, as evidenced by a record marriage rate and baby boom. But they decry the economic conditions of the time for job security and good wages. They don’t seem to accept that the latter empowered the former. When a sensible person is considering starting a family, a reasonable expectation of steady income for 20 years is big part of the decision. The free agent economy these kinds of conservatives love so much, leads to free agent family and community values, which they hate.

    They need to decide if values are important enough to design an economy that encourages them; or if “values” are just a tool they want to use to reduce the social cost of their pro-wealthy economics.

  • Christiana Cameron

    I don’t understand your logic here. If an uncertain economic future really caused people to opt out of marriage, you would expect that same uncertainty to cause people to opt out of having children, not to lead to a “free agent family” dynamic, i.e., high rates of illegitimacy. Nothing will lessen your chances of “steady income for 20 years” like single parenthood – that has been proven empirically time and again. Marriage, on the other hand, will nearly every time increase your chances for economic stability.

  • domelot

    Excellent, Gayle. A pleasure meeting you at the NRB this last Sunday