A few weeks back over at PJ Media, Roger L. Simon penned an interesting piece arguing that social conservatives are helping liberals out by pushing culture-war themes in an America that has long moved on to more basic economic issues of governance. It's not that personal lifestyle issues don't matter, he says, it's that most of them (maybe all of them) should be dealt with in non-political channels.
Perhaps most interestingly, this came before Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement (long overdue, IMO) that the federal government would practice marriage equality.
Citing polls that we use frequently here at Reason.com, Simon notes with approval that distrust of government is at record highs and that a new generation of kids are growing up sans a lot of their parents' baggage:
When you come down to it, virtually nothing associated with the liberal platform met with their approval — even legalization of marijuana was dealt with in most instances with a shrug — except, you guessed it, same-sex marriage.
That appears to be the one issue militating against a coming Republican majority, but it is an exceptionally potent one because it is used, fairly or not, to paint the right as bigots. And young people, again not surprisingly, don't want to hang with bigots — so the whole house of cards goes down.
On the other hand, I sensed no hostility toward religious people. Several of these kids were religious — a few devoutly. They were quite thoughtful on the subject of abortion with a variety of views. But to them gay marriage was a done deal. Remember, they come from a generation in which nearly all of their gay contemporaries are out. These are their friends and classmates that are being discriminated against.
In terms of politics, Simon looks toward libertarianism as the ideology of the future. Not because it stops discussion over any issue, but because libertarianism removes many of those issues from politics and put them back in places better suited to hashing out differences. It's a stark—and I think convincing—message to conservatives and one they should heed when considering political alliances. Any energy coming from Republicans these days is because of the large failure of Barack Obama and liberal Democrats' political agenda and because of the libertarian wing of the GOP and its focus on civil liberties, foreign policy, and fiscal rectitude. It's not because cultural warriors are getting the vapors over the gays or drugs or the need to triple defense spending.
People under 40 (plus or minus a decade!) simply don't think about things the way Americans did a generation or two ago and many of the political linkages borne out of the Cold War era in U.S. politics—especially on a broadly defined right—are simply defunct. Indeed, even among religious Americans, the once-hugely important dividing lines among Evangelicals, Catholics, and Jews have dissolved in a way that was unthinkable during Ronald Reagan's first presidential term (back then, ecumenism was a dirty word and Jerry Falwell was as likely to fulminate against Roman Catholics as against any group in America).
I have to say in all candor that political opposition to same-sex marriage is the Achilles' heel of the right going into 2016. Social conservatives who intend to make a serious issue out of it should realize that the fallout from their views could adversely affect all of us in a catastrophic way.
No one is going to be happy here. SoCons who continue to press this issue on the political (not the personal or religious) stage have to realize that they are damaging many of us who have other concerns domestic and foreign, many of which we would probably agree on more easily.
This is a great moment. A seriously smaller government is a real possibility with electoral victories in 2014 and 2016. Let's not jeopardize them by emphasizing an issue more properly, and unquestionably more successfully, dealt with in the private realm.
Simon's libertarian swerve started a discussion among other PJ Media columnists, which is gathered here.