The coming culture war — and its consequences

THE COMING CULTURE WAR — AND ITS CONSEQUENCES…. It’s not like conservatives haven’t been telegraphing their punches. Republican officials at the state level appear almost desperate to tackle culture-war social issues, and have grand ambitions. GOP activists and their lawmaker allies expect to restrict abortion rights, expand concealed-weapon laws, prohibit stem-cell research, severely limit gay rights, and privatize all kinds of services, including public education.

And then there’s Congress, where the incoming House Republican majority has already said it intends to tackle birthright citizenship early in the new year. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) recently added that it’s just not possible for someone to be “a fiscal conservative and not be a social conservative.”

It’s going to get worse.

A leading Congressional opponent of abortion rights, who is in line to take charge of an influential House panel, plans to press for much stricter limits on the procedure.

The selection of the lawmaker, Representative Joe Pitts, Republican of Pennsylvania, as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health presages a major shift on abortion and family planning, according to opponents and supporters of abortion rights.

Opponents of abortion gained about 45 seats in the midterm elections, and they count the next speaker, Representative John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, as a staunch ally, virtually guaranteeing more conflicts with the White House on the issue.

Mr. Pitts was chosen last week as the chairman of the subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over private health insurance, Medicaid and much of Medicare, as well as the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.

In urging Republican leaders to choose Mr. Pitts, the National Right to Life Committee said he had “made the protection of the sanctity of innocent human life the cornerstone of his service in the House.”

Voters who backed Republicans this year because they were upset about the economy may not have realized exactly what they’d get as a result of their vote.

And all of this reminds me of a point I’ve been meaning to mention. Shortly after the 1994 midterms, to characterize Bill Clinton’s standing with Democrats as “weak” would be an understatement. The likelihood of a primary challenger was great, and many simply assumed he’d be a one-term president. Liberal Dems resented his triangulation and third-way tendencies; conservative Dems considered him far to the left of the American mainstream. Plenty of congressional Dems didn’t even want to be seen with the then-president.

Democratic attitudes started to change, and party activists and members started coming together, once they got a good luck at their common foe — far-right Republicans who thought they’d won a massive electoral mandate.

Republican excesses made Clinton look better in the eyes of Dems everywhere. White House opposition to Republican excesses made Clinton look much better in the eyes of Dems everywhere.

I mention this, of course, because President Obama’s standing among the most liberal Democrats appears to have reached a low point. The more the president can draw contrasts between himself and an unpopular GOP, and the more Republicans wage extremist crusades on issues like abortion rights, the easier I think it might be to heal some of these intra-party rifts.