For 2012 Republicans: The Economy Trumps the Culture War
Mary Kate Cary
We all know the answer to Reagan's question: Are you better off than you were four years ago?
On the day that President Obama was sworn into office, the unemployment rate was 7.3 percent. Today it stands at 9.1 percent, an increase of 25 percent. Back on Inauguration Day, a gallon of gas was averaging $1.83, while today it stands at $3.74. In the last few months, we've seen declines in real wages, in manufacturing production and orders, in existing home sales, and in chain-store sales, and a sharp drop in consumer confidence. I think we all know the answer to President Reagan's question during the Carter years: Are you better off than you were four years ago?
The national debt was "only" $10.6 trillion when Obama took office; it's now $14.3 trillion. The national debt may not be a pocketbook worry like gasoline prices or real wages, but economist Martin Feldstein wrote in the Wall Street Journal recently that the economic bad news will continue until we have a plan to bring the deficit under control without raising taxes. In fact, one of the causes of the weak economy is Obama's repeated calls for higher taxes on wealthier Americans and multinational companies. "With that higher-tax cloud hanging over them," Feldstein wrote, "it is not surprising that individuals and businesses do not make the entrepreneurial investments and business expansions that would cause a solid recovery."
Instead of allaying those fears by negotiating a leaner federal budget and endorsing the findings of the deficit commission -- which would go a long way toward spurring hiring and investment -- the president keeps pleading for patience, saying there are no "quick fixes" to the economy. He doesn't seem to understand that many middle-class families and Main Street businesses can't afford to wait and see what happens with taxes, healthcare costs, energy prices, and interest rates on their mortgages.
By not acting decisively, the administration risks becoming completely irrelevant to voters. In fact, most folks believe that government policies are making the economy worse. Two thirds of Americans now think our nation is on the wrong track.
With the debt growing, the economy stalling, and no plan for fixing either one coming from Obama, the 2012 presidential election provides Republican candidates with a clear opportunity to make the case for limited government and fiscal conservatism. But until recently, there were still many social conservatives who thought Republican victory lay in hot-button "wedge" issues like gay marriage and abortion. Then, as the Obama recession has dragged on, they've seen what has been happening at the ballot box: Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Chris Christie of New Jersey were elected governor, and Scott Brown of Massachusetts won a Senate seat, after keeping fiscal issues, not social concerns, in the forefront of their campaigns.
Social conservatives have realized that just as Obama risks becoming irrelevant for his inaction on the economy, they too risk being sidelined for overaction on cultural issues. These days, both fiscal and social conservatives seem to be moving in the same direction: It's more important to get people back to work and reduce the deficit than it is to debate "don't ask, don't tell" or Proposition 8 in California.
A year ago, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told the Weekly Standard that the next president, whoever he is, "would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues. We're going to just have to agree to get along for a little while." Daniels's comments were controversial at the time, but now not so much. Things seem to be changing within the GOP.
In a recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, GOP primary voters were asked if they'd be more likely to support a primary candidate in 2012 who says the party should focus more on economic issues than social concerns. A whopping two thirds said they'd be more, not less, likely to vote for that candidate. It sounds like voters are where Daniels was a year ago. "In politics, purity is the enemy of victory," Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour told a recent conference of social conservatives. "We can't expect our [presidential] candidate to be pure. Winning is about unity, not purity," he said.
Winning was certainly on the minds of the seven GOP candidates who met for their first debate in New Hampshire earlier this month. While pretty much every candidate did have something to say about abortion, they spent more time talking about a topic far more relevant to middle-class families: Obama's handling of the economy. Every one of the candidates on stage endorsed, in some way or another, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan 's plan to reform entitlements. They all agreed that job creation and the economy are the top issues of this campaign.
The same conference at which Barbour spoke was organized by former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed and attended by such fiscal activists as Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. "We really have an economic crisis," Deal Hudson, an influential Catholic conservative, told my U.S. News colleague Alex Parker . "I don't have a problem with an appropriate amount of attention to that." Maggie Gallagher, chairwoman of the National Organization for Marriage, noted that "the divide between the Tea Party and the social conservatives is a false divide." Former Sen. Rick Santorum put it well: "Social conservatives understand that the bigger the government, the smaller the person and the more repressed the family."
It's safe to say that conservatives of all stripes feel that to continue to spend taxpayer money irresponsibly and run up endless deficits is a moral issue. And I'd bet quite a few independent voters would agree.
Read the latest political news.
- Why Are We Afraid to Cross the Lines that Divide Us?
- Bernie Sanders: Make the Rich Pay Off the Deficit
- The Free Market Fails at Food Safety
- The Growing Desperation of the Don't-Raise-Taxes-on-the-Rich Crowd
- If Not This, Then What Are Our Taxes Paying For?
- Debt Limit Irresponsibility
- Debt Ceiling Deal Could Mean Social Security Cuts
- The Tax Cuts for the Rich Again
- Stand-Up Time for Obama
- President Obama's Balancing Act
- New Jersey Miracle: What About the Rest of Us?
- For 2012 Republicans: The Economy Trumps the Culture War
- Michele Bachmann's Beginnings
- GOP Attacking Americans' Right to Vote
- Marco Rubio: Ready for Political Primetime
- 'Mortal Kombat' and the First Amendment
- The Unethical Clarence Thomas
- On Humanitarianism: Is Helping Others Charity or Duty or Both?
- Does Obama Have a Grand Strategy?
- How Health Care Can Save or Sink America
- Charlie Crist Would Topple Rick Scott Next Florida Governor Race
- Big Media Suicide Compact
- Sarah Palin and the Media Bring Out the Worst in Each Other
- GOP's War on Workers' Rights Undermines the Economy
- Rejection of Reality Has Become Endemic to Politics
- Are the Republicans Going Soft on Taxes?
- Senators Urge IRS to Provide Taxpayers With Free Software
- AARP on Social Security: A Game-Changer for Entitlement Programs?
- Younger Women Desert Female Candidates
- Will Jon Huntsman Impact the 2012 Field?
- Will Jon Huntsman's Foreign Policy Experience Even Matter for 2012?
- Should Rick Perry Run for the 2012 GOP Nomination?
- Why Anthony Weiner Had to Resign
- Anthony Weiner: Normalizing Deviance
- Anthony Weiner: The Shameless Society
- 8 Politicians Who Survived Scandals
- Momentum Grows for Payroll Tax Cut
- America's Fading Exceptionalism
- When It Comes to Sleaze Men Rule
- President Obama: Our Reactionary President
- Latest On Obama's War Powers Act Workaround
- New GOP Majority Is Trying to Cut Spending, But Not By Enough
- 'Utterly Insane' Health Care Insurance Situation
- Odds Just 1 in 3 on Deal to Raise Debt Ceiling
- An Unrevealing Debate
- The Gingrich Implosion
- GOP Activists Hope for Surprise 2012 Candidate
- Michele Bachmann: The Smart Version of Sarah Palin
- Media Hit Bottom With Sarah Palin Emails
- Hispanics Key to Victory in 2012 Presidential Race
- Anthony Weiner Not the Only 'Flash' Photographer, Sadly
- The President Shouldn't Go Over to the Supply Side
- The Afghan Money Pit
- United States and Pakistan: Afghan Strategies
- Predator Syndrome
- Anti Voter Fraud Reforms Are Practical Not Partisan
- With Rick Santorum Religious Conservatives May Have a 2012 Candidate
- The Truth Is the GOP Has 2012 Trouble
- Obama 2012: Custom-Tailored History
- Robert Gates Departure Could Bring Makeover for Obama on National Security
- Washington Plays Chicken With the Market
- GOP Pushes Balanced Budget Amendment
- For Many Republicans Afghanistan Is A Budget Issue
- Will Mitt Romney Be Able to Dodge Healthcare Flip-Flopper Label?
- Mitt Romney's Second Try
- Is Sarah Palin Wrong to Stand by her Paul Revere Statements?
- On History Sarah Palin is Just Like a Lot of Us
- Little Evidence Weiner Broke Law in Twitter Photo Scandal
- Anthony Weiner: Sex Scandal Sans Sex
- Anthony Weiner: Here's the Lowdown on 'Weinergate'
- Anthony Weiner: A Time For Sadness
- Breaking Down the Debt-Ceiling Debate
- Congress' Bipartisan Vice Is Cowardice
- 40 Years Later: America's Failed War on Drugs
- Something We Can Say With Certitude: The Economy Stinks!
- Solution to US Budget Woes Lies in Ending Its Many Wars
- Tea Party Fear: Has Washington Co-Opted New House Members?
- Obamacare Scare Fizzles
- 5 Reasons Sarah Palin Will Get the 2012 GOP Nod and 5 Reasons She Won't
- Latest GOP Sideshow
- Citizen Cain Rhymes With 'Pain'
- Florida GOP Won't Let Democracy Get Out of Hand
- 8 Easy Ways to Cut Government Spending
- Balanced Budget Movement Grows In House
- Senators Propose Closing State Offices to Save on Budget
- The Factory of Selective Moral Outrage
- Republicans and Democrats No Closer to Compromising on Jobs Plan
- Why Republican Medicare Strategy Just Might Work in Long Run
- Beware the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex
- Obama's Bad Policy and Harmful Regulations Add to Gas Prices
- Congress Wants More Clarity on Obama's Libya Policy
- New DNC Boss Calls GOP 'Anti-Women'
- Obama Is Deceiving Hispanics on Immigration
- Obama and the Shifting Ground of Race
- Eliot Spitzer's 10 Rules To Fixing the Economy and Corporate Mismanagement
- A Bad Day That Never Changes
- Executive Pay Zooming Skyward Again
- On Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Shakespeare and the Enemy in the Mirror
- The Battle for the Soul of the GOP
- To Fix the Budget Deficit Raise Corporate Taxes
- The Case for and Against The TARP Bailout
- Obama's Secret Weapon for 2012 Re-Election Campaign: The Economy
- 10 Issues Driving Obama's 2012 Re-Election Campaign
- Koch Brothers War on America
- Ignorant Certainty
- Apocalypse, Oops! -- Lessons From a Failed Doom
- Giuliani Aiming to Take Down Romney in New Hampshire
- Tim Pawlenty Aims for the Straight Talk Mantel
- Newt Gingrich Will Star In Democrats' Anti-Ryan Medicare Attacks
- Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin Leading 2012 GOP Field
- GOP Horse With No Rider
- What Price Our Principles?
- Pentagon and Obama Bomb House Bid To Revive Jet Engine
- Congress's Deep Support for Israel May Not Lead to Action
- President Obama Counters Criticism on Middle East
- Obama Offers Little New In Middle East Speech
- The Latest Futility: New President, Same Middle East
- Elizabeth Warren to Obama: 'You Had Me at Predatory Lending'
- Guess Who's Running For President in 2012?
- Even Without Donald Trump, Plenty of Clowns in the 2012 GOP Field
- Who Benefits from Huckabee and Trump 2012 Announcements
- Bin Laden Killing Is Obama's Defining Moment
- Herb Kohl Retirement Adds to Democrats 2012 Senate Woes
- Government Hits Debt Ceiling as Parties Squabble
- Boehner's Debt Ceiling Speech Shows Problems of Obamanomics
- Four Roadblocks to Obama's Immigration Reform
- Alligators, Moats and Other Such Nonsense
- Obama Talks Nice About Immigration Reform But What Is He Willing to Do?
- Mitt Romney: Like Father, Like Son
- Why Newt Gingrich Will be the 2012 GOP Nominee for President
- The GOP Field for 2012: Who's on First?
- Republicans Vs. Invisibility
- A Sharper GOP Field for 2012
- GOP Warns Of Back Door Mileage Tax
- Big Oil Tax Break Vote Could Hurt Vulnerable Republicans
- Why Congress Cannot Fix Your Gas Prices Pain
- Why Washington Should Pay Attention to the Economy Here and Now
- On Gas Prices Obama Should Lead or Get Out of the Way
- Putting $4 Gas In Perspective
- 7 Ways the United States Population is Changing
- Dear Class of 2011: Good Luck You're Really Going to Need It
- Big Oil's Money Gusher
- Lawmakers Tell Obama to End Afghanistan War
- Osama bin Laden Is Dead: Does Obama or Bush Deserve the Credit?
- What did Killing Osama bin Laden Actually Accomplish?
- Toning Down the Celebrating
- Why the Hurry to Gloat About Bin Laden?
- Wall Street Lobbyists Trying to Sway Tea Party
- Killed by Tea Party GOP, Second F-35 Engine Revived
- Trotting Out the GOP Candidates
- Bad GOP Timing
- Recall Elections Enhance Democracy
- Recall Elections Waste Public Funds and Cause Chaos
- A Memorial Day to Remember
Available at Amazon.com:
For 2012 Republicans: The Economy Trumps the Culture War | Politics
(c) 2011 U.S. News & World Report