Do Values Issues Still Matter?

The 60-day sprint to Election Day is underway, and many Republicans are making the familiar argument that the election should be about one thing and one thing only: the economy.

With unemployment still rising and GDP growth still slowing in response to the Democrats’ failed economic policies, Republicans would be remiss not to focus on the economy. But they should reject the advice to focus only on pocketbook issues.

Instead, Republicans should highlight the Democrats’ dreadful record in all policy areas, including on the values issues that continue to inspire and motivate millions of voters.

At a recent event sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Republican Governor’s Association Chairman Haley Barbour cautioned GOP candidates against raising social issues in the final weeks of the campaign.

Barbour, who is also governor of Mississippi, was asked to respond to comments made earlier this year by Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who had urged social and fiscal conservatives to reach a “truce” for the purposes of 2010 election.

“I think what Mitch said is very similar to what I have responded to today,” Barbour said. “The voters have on their mind the economy, jobs, spending, debt and taxes and good campaigns are about the issues that are on the people’s minds.”

Barbour added: “I’ll put my bonafides up against anybody as a social conservative… But that ain’t going to change anybody’s vote this year because people are concerned about job, the economy, growth and taxes…. You are using up valuable time and resources that can be used to talk to people about what they care about.”

Barbour and Daniels are solid social conservatives, but I can’t say I’m surprised by their advice to de-emphasize social issues. The political class has always been dismissive of cultural issues like abortion, marriage and religious freedom. An August poll conducted by the consulting firm Penn Schoen Berland underscores the phenomenon. 

The poll found that 83% of the “general population” surveyed felt “family values” issues were important, while 15% felt those issues were not important. Among “D.C. Elites” interviewed, the split was 57% to 42%.  

That 26-point “importance gap” between regular Americans and “D.C. elites” (politicians, journalists, et. al.) represented by far the largest gap of any of the 14 issues polled. The next largest difference was just seven points.

This is not to say that the electorate doesn’t want candidates to talk about how they’re going to fix the economy—the poll showed that the “general population” felt economic issues were most important. It’s just that, despite what some politicians believe, the dismal economy hasn’t wiped all other issues off voters’ lists of concerns.

Deciding which issues to focus on isn’t an either-or proposition. Many issues related to the sanctity of human life, for instance, are linked with the economy and our foreign policy.
Consider the Democrats’ yearly gift to Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion-seller, makes millions in profits every year. Yet it has received more than $650 million in taxpayer subsidies over the last seven years, according to Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind).
Pence, who has proposed legislation to de-fund Planned Parenthood, has said, “In these tough economic times, there is simply no reason why taxpayer money should go to fund the activities of abortion providers and equip them with the resources they need to end innocent human life.”
The same could be said about the Obama Administration’s funding of human embryonic stem cell research. In 2009, Obama signed an executive order expanding taxpayer funding of the life-destroying research and subsequently sent hundreds of millions of dollars to researchers across the country. A suit challenging the policy is pending in federal court.

Then there’s the administration’s promotion of abortion abroad. It plans to spend $63 billion over the next six years on the Global Health Initiative, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the “centerpiece” of the Obama foreign policy. Much of that money will be spent on reproductive services, including abortion.

The Democratic-led Congress has appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars for abortion and family planning. And in Kenya, the administration’s recent abortion advocacy may be illegal.
Federal law prohibits foreign aid (that’s U.S. taxpayers’ money) to be spent on lobbying for or against abortion. But the administration is accused of illegally encouraging Kenyans to vote “yes” on a new constitution that codifies abortion-on-demand. The new constitution passed by referendum in early August.

The administration spent at least $23 million in the effort. Vice President Joe Biden even visited Kenya and told voters that they needed to approve the constitution in order to “allow the money to flow” from foreign governments.

This is only a partial list, but you get the point: Values issues and pocketbook issues are not mutually exclusive. Democrats’ unprecedented efforts to force taxpayers to underwrite abortion at home and abroad are relevant not only to pro-lifers but also to voters concerned about our exploding government debt.

Also, spending billions of dollars we don’t have is a moral issue as well as an economic issue. Our housing collapse was caused in part by greed. Some buyers lied about their finances, while many lenders were reckless in taking risks in the hopes of turning bigger profits.

There are, of course, many other issues GOP candidates can spotlight. Polls show 60%to 70% of Americans support Arizona’s commonsense immigration law. Highlighting the administration’s negligence in enforcing our immigration laws, as well as its absurd decision to sue Arizona, will hurt most Democratic candidates.

Polls also show deep opposition to the Ground Zero mosque, including, according to one CNN poll, among 70% of independents and a majority of Democrats.

Liberal judges threaten 2nd Amendment rights and continue to push for a radical redefinition of marriage and to exclude unborn children from constitutional protection. Any Republican who can explain that to voters will increase their chances of getting elected, not decrease them.

In short, a Republican agenda that emphasizes free markets and self reliance works only in a culture with a strong moral foundation and stable families. Adam Smith understood that. I wish more Republicans did, too.