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Monday, November 08, 2004

Perhaps Bret Shouldn't Fret

Concerns by social liberals over the future course of events in this country have some merit. I think, however, that the situation is far from dire. While there does seem to be some movement back towards more traditional values amongst the populace, it doesn't look like your grandfather's conservatism to me. Even amongst many religious people there is a greater degree of tolerance for people who are different provided that pursuit of alternative lifestyles is not too "in your face." Furthermore, most evangelicals are not fundamentalists.

I've mentioned my views about the primacy of economic and political liberty. Ultimately all liberties are intertwined. Even social changes should be pursued within a framework known as the rule of law. This is the best assurance of preserving all kinds of liberty in the future (I would think that this is of great importance to Bret). It is the departure in practice from this concept that has contributed to many conflicts in this country. Bruce Bartlett points out the implications of such in this column. Here are some excerpts:
The truth is that the issue of values, which motivated many of Bush’s supporters according to exit polls, has much less to do with religion than Democrats believe. Ironically, the real problem is that liberals have imposed their beliefs on America in exactly the way they imagine what conservatives want to do. In many cases, the real frustration isn’t even with the liberal goals, but with the way in which they would achieve those goals.

Consider the most divisive issue of all: abortion. Had the courts left it alone, the states would gradually have changed their laws, with some being very permissive and others maintaining tight restrictions. This would have eventually led to one of two outcomes. Either it would have stabilized America, as people would move to states that suited their moral or religious beliefs, or it would have pressured Congress to adopt something that probably would look much like the trimester system we have today.

But the democratic process was not allowed to operate. It was too time consuming, too messy, and too uncertain for those who wanted legalized abortion immediately. So the Supreme Court imposed it by fiat, thus leaving those against abortion or even just uncomfortable with it feeling disenfranchised, as if their views count for nothing.

Moreover, the lack of a legislative solution also means that there is no way to tinker with the system to fix obvious flaws, such as the problem of partial-birth abortion, without reopening the whole question of abortion for debate.

A similar situation has arisen over gay marriage. Liberals are too quick to assume that all opposition to it is based solely on hatred of gays, when in fact it is based more on a fear that the courts will impose it by judicial fiat without the consent of the people.

Consequently, there are growing numbers of voters who are secular in their beliefs, but find themselves within the values coalition. They oppose making abortion illegal, but also oppose Roe v. Wade. They have no problem with gay marriage, but are appalled that a single court in our most liberal state is effectively imposing a national policy allowing gay marriage. Such people are not prudes, but they don’t want their children viewing nudity or listening to profanity on the public airwaves.

If Democrats conclude that there is nothing to the values issue except religion, they will be very mistaken. Unfortunately, they may conclude that they will have to rely even more on the courts to impose their agenda in the future, thus making the fight over Supreme Court appointments even more bitter.

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