Religious right leader sticks up for the culture war

RELIGIOUS RIGHT LEADER STICKS UP FOR THE CULTURE WAR…. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is a fairly prominent leader in the religious right movement, and is understandably concerned about the direction of modern conservatism. There’s been a tug-of-war between GOP constituencies — theocrats vs. more secular libertarians — and the religious right fears losing.

Yesterday, Land had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, arguing, among other things, that “Americans don’t want a ‘truce’ on social issues.”

Indiana governor and likely Republican presidential candidate Mitch Daniels has suggested that Americans call a “truce” on divisive social issues until our precarious financial house is back in order. Many pundits have praised the idea, typically thrilled that a Republican leader seems willing to jettison, even temporarily, strong positions on abortion or gay marriage. But social conservatives are mad, and rightly so.

Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, social conservatives were the foot soldiers for Republican victories — only to see their issues bargained away or shoved to the bottom of the GOP agenda, beneath issues of fiscal and foreign policy. Reacting to Gov. Daniels, former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recently said: “For those of us who have labored long and hard in the fight to educate the Democrats, voters, the media and even some Republicans on the importance of strong families, traditional marriage and life to our society, this is absolutely heartbreaking.”

Perhaps Gov. Daniels interprets the emergence of the tea party as a sign that GOP candidates don’t have to depend on social-issues voters as they once did. That seems unlikely.

The piece is obviously intended to derail Daniels before the Indiana governor even announces his campaign, but that’s not the part I found most interesting here. Rather, Land notes, almost in passing, that right-wing culture warriors have seen “their issues bargained away or shoved to the bottom of the GOP agenda.” The religious right leader doesn’t want Daniels to run because he doesn’t want to see that happen again.

That’s understandable, but I’m wondering how much longer it’ll take for Land and others in his movement to realize they’re Charlie Brown, Lucy is the Republican establishment, and the culture-war agenda is the football.

Land himself acknowledged that this has been going on for decades — the GOP uses the religious right base to win elections, but refuses to put their issues at the top of the national agenda. What Land neglects to mention is that there’s a very good reason for that — Republicans don’t want to lose, and the American mainstream isn’t on board with the religious right wish list.

Indeed, the arc of history keeps bending in the other direction, as Americans become more inclined to support gay rights, less inclined to ban abortion, and increasingly uncomfortable with those on the right with a theocratic vision. If the GOP was willing to blow off Land and his buddies in the 1980s and ’90s, when American attitudes might have been more sympathetic, it’s only going to get worse.

Republicans didn’t “bargain away” the religious right’s issues and/or “shove them to the bottom of the GOP agenda” out of spite; they did so out of political/electoral necessity. And in all likelihood, they’ll keep doing this, truce or no truce, Daniels or no Daniels, because the party doesn’t want to lose major elections.