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Ponnuru’s Commitments

Ramesh Ponnuru has compiled a list of eight commitments he thinks any GOP candidate should make to earn the support of “conservatives.” It’s a revealing list.

First of all, nearly half of the items – 3 of the 8 listed – relate to abortion. He wants a commitment to end Federal funding of organizations (like Planned Parenthood) that perform abortions, to let states cut off Medicaid funds to such organizations as well, and to end funding of research that depends on human embryos.

Then, yet another 3 items – more than half of the remaining list – relate to “culture war” matters. Candidates should, in his view, pledge to sign the First Amendment Defense Act, which protects individuals from federal action being taken against them because of actions taken on the belief that marriage is lawfully only the union of a man and a woman. And they should pledge to withdraw guidance related to school discipline intended to reduce disparate impact on black and Hispanic students, and to withdraw guidance to universities on matters related to sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.

In other words, a full three-fourths of the items on conservative litmus test, as Ponnuru sees it, relate to culture war questions. (The other two items relate to immigration and to the question under what circumstances regulatory agencies can be sued.)

I’m not interested in debating the merits of the individual proposals on Ponnuru’s list. I just want to note how tiny and narrow they appear to me even in the context of the typical trivialities of a Presidential campaign. That fact is especially striking when you consider that Ponnuru breezily asserts at the top of his article that of course all conservatives agree on low taxes and a strong defense – as if there were no more that need be said about economics or foreign policy. It’s also striking how defensive the list reads, with many of the items related to reversing Obama-era policies that social conservatives fear threaten their ability to operate on an equal basis in American life.

You never know what will prove to be a symbolic rallying cry with resonance, so for all I know Ponnuru has identified items that really will resonate with large numbers of people. But I would have thought that that question would be one that the candidates’ campaigns were particularly interested in, rather than something that would come from a movement seeking to extract commitments from said candidates.

I’m in no sense a movement conservative, and I’m way to Ponnuru’s left, so maybe I’m a bad reader. But it sure doesn’t read like much of an agenda to me.

about the author

Noah Millman, senior editor, is an opinion journalist, critic, screenwriter, and filmmaker who joined The American Conservative in 2012. Prior to joining TAC, he was a regular blogger at The American Scene. Millman’s work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Week, Politico, First Things, Commentary, and on The Economist’s online blogs. He lives in Brooklyn.

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