Wednesday, July 02, 2008

McCain and the Culture War

John McCain seems to be slowly getting the message that social conservatives as a constituency cannot be ignored if the Republican nominee is to have a chance in the fall. He is giving some social conservatives a chance to speak their minds to him in a more direct way, and they are telling him that he needs to more clearly articulate his social position:

McCain and his staff have been quietly reaching out to cultural
conservatives. In Cincinnati on Thursday, McCain sat down with a half-dozen
Christian leaders, many of whom were critical of him as a primary candidate.

Their message for him: Speak louder and longer about social issues and
your values.

"We made it very clear to him that if he doesn't start speaking on family
issues, he's going to lose Ohio," said Phil Burress, president of Citizens for
Community Values. "He needs to make the issues he agrees with us on very clear."

The leaders McCain met with Thursday said his record is stronger than many
perceive, and several likened the gap between him and Obama to the Grand Canyon.
But, they said, he needs to do more to herald his support of their issues. "He's
not getting out what he stands for when it comes to conservatives," Burress
said. "The voters are definitely stagnant right now."

One of McCain's reassurances, they said, was that he would talk about his
opposition to abortion and support for state initiatives to ban same-sex
marriage. "He pledged to us we'd hear a lot more from him and that he'd be
speaking his voice on these issues," said Mike Gonidakis, executive director of
Ohio Right to Life.

John McCain may not have previously believed that social conservatives count for much in swing States, but he is quickly learning that they do and they could decide the election. Ohio Right to Life, for example, has an immense amount of political clout. Ohio is one of the few Northern States where a Democrat can not only run as unabashedly pro-life, but Democratic Party operatives openly recruit pro-life candidates who could be viewed as acceptable to Ohio Right to Life and could get their endorsement, because an ORTL endorsement often leads to victory-while a lack of one could mean defeat, particularly in German or other ethnic Catholic districts where attachment to the Church is still extremely high. The Ohio Democratic Party as a whole is not a pro-life party, but they have not shown a propensity to shun pro-lifers the way that other State Democratic organizations have done. For that reason, Ohio voters have often demonstrated a willingness to vote Republican at the top of the ticket while voting Democratic in down-ticket races. If John McCain isn't careful, a lot of these social conservatives could decide to leave their presidential ballots blank if they do not trust him-thus causing him to lose Ohio.

McCain could also lose the votes of traditional Catholics who might otherwise be inclined to support him in States he is counting on to do well in the fall such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania if he does not speak out with greater force about his official pro-life position.

I have taken a lot of criticism in some quarters for admitting that I was wrong about Mike Huckabee, that I probably should have endorsed him for President from the beginning, and that John McCain should choose Huckabee as his running mate. Perhaps the biggest reason that I believe these things is that this election cycle has caused me to have a real re-awakening-a "come to Jesus" experience, if you will, about the importance of social issues. The reality is not that issues like abortion or gay marriage are mere "wedge issues," they are a part of a larger conflict. Back in 1992, Pat Buchanan said we were in a "cultural war for the soul of America." I submit that we are at the high tide of that cultural war. What we have seen in the last two election cycles the waging of the culture war play out in the result, for it is the culture war that is the reason for the "division" that our friends on the Left so bemoan. While other conservatives are content to merely fight about taxes, spending, and immigration (yes, those issues are very important), some of us understand that those issues are but corollaries in a much larger culture war.

For many years, some in the GOP have known that the conservative movement is busy fighting the culture war and they have been content not to fight it with us, but to use our fight to benefit their political situation. I have long thought that the party brass at the national level merely views social conservatives as lemmings that can be toted along. This year, many social conservatives didn't like what was on offer and began to support someone who shared their values on a "first things" level. The reaction in the "official" conservative press was to try and make that person un-conservative. I regret that I initially participated in this dirt-throwing. In supporting an unreliable, pro-life-when-it-suits-me-and-for-the-Second-Amendment-this-week New England Governor, many of these so-called conservatives showed their true colors: They could care less about the culture war, they've just used it to advance themselves-but they won't fight. It was when I realized this that I understood why so many social conservatives were supporting Governor Huckabee.

The culture war is not the only issue on which real conservatives should fight an election campaign, but it is by far the most important. A candidate who has all the right positions, but who fails to respect life in all its stages and will not support judges who believe in a culture of life and an understanding of the Divine roots of common law, that candidate is a hollow one.

The culture war must be waged because it is about whether this nation will be one that is under God, or one that is under Gog.

Only one side will win the culture war in this life, and the Left knows this. To paraphrase a certain 19th Century leader: The red and blue house will not remain divided culturally forever, but it will either become all one thing, or all the other.

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