Bret Stephens keeps the myth of the “social truce” alive:
Democrats did better with a president who wanted abortion to be “safe, legal and rare”; Republicans would have done better by adopting former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’s call for a “truce” on social issues.
And then, he says, 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,” until the economic issues are resolved.
When Daniels said this, social conservatives mistakenly assumed that it was another sign that their priorities were going to be ignored and their support taken for granted once again, and moderates and liberals within and outside the GOP celebrated the proposal because they interpreted it just as wrongly as Stephens does. What Daniels meant was that he believed that the fiscal and economic problems in the U.S. were so grave that the next president, regardless of who it was, would be compelled to cooperate with the other party, which would require that the president “call a truce on the so-called social issues” and “get along for a little while.” Daniels was making the case that culture war and “values” arguments over “the so-called social issues” needed to be temporarily postponed by both sides, but he has been almost universally misinterpreted as saying that Republicans ought to moderate their positions on these issues. It’s important to understand that Daniels wasn’t saying that the GOP ought to change anything about their positions on these issues.
In that interview, Daniels wasn’t concerned with coming up with a way to make the GOP more electorally viable, which is what seems to preoccupy Stephens in his column. What interested him in that interview was emphasizing the gravity of the country’s fiscal and economic problems, which he thought might be more quickly resolved if the “so-called social issues” didn’t somehow get in the way. The main problem with Daniels’ proposal was that it seemed to assume that the parties aren’t divided just as deeply over fiscal and economic matters as they are on social and cultural ones. If Obama called Daniels’ proposed “truce,” it wouldn’t reduce the differences between the parties over entitlements, tax rates, the military budget, or other domestic spending. Other than annoying activists and reliable voters, such a “truce” wouldn’t achieve anything.