Monday, November 26, 2012

Social Studies Standards Debate Is Crucial

We're having a spirited debate in Nebraska about social studies standards in our K-12 system, specifically whether "American exceptionalism" and related foundational principles are being emphasized enough. For Republicans and conservatives, this debate is more productive and more important than any more arguing about Romney as a candidate, or where and when the "next Reagan" will surface. Reagan himself might not win today because there might not be enough of a market for what he was selling -- the belief that there are absolute, timeless principles such as liberty and capitalism, and to deviate from them is to commit political suicide.

My book is about fiscal policy, but here's an excerpt about how the right has to counteract several decades of relativism in education, politics, and the culture in general:

There’s a strain of conservative thought that says if a social issue matters enough to cost us votes, then give it up. It’s too hard to fight the attractiveness and shallowness of popular culture with broader, deeper concepts and values.

Conservatives who think voters can be recruited by giving ground on social issues are missing the point. Voters “turned off” by conservative opposition to same-sex marriage or abortion are not going to care about the debt. They also want “free” universal health care. The list goes on. People will do drugs so give them clean needles and maybe just go ahead and legalize drugs. People will have sex no matter what so give them condoms and make employers pay for birth control regardless of moral objections. Come to think of it, since sex is nothing more than a recreational pursuit and marriage is an outdated and irrelevant institution, why fuss about same-sex marriage at all? Kiss and marry whomever you want. There are no rules, no boundaries, no limits. There is no such thing as natural law, no timeless set of principles from which it is dangerous to deviate.

Do conservatives really think they can wade into that cultural morass and enforce the kind of mental and moral discipline necessary for fiscal conservatism? If deficits and debt are necessary to continue the government-supported lifestyle I want and pay for the social chaos produced by deviation from natural law, then so be it. I don’t want to listen. I don’t want to change. What you propose could be painful and require sacrifice. Just raise taxes on somebody else and keep the party going.

The Obama campaign ad comparing voting to sex featured a young woman who was a model lefty: cute, clever, sassy, willing to trivialize sexuality and voting and citizenship. Who cares about the debt or dead Americans in Benghazi? Obama is attractive and cool, simultaneously smooth and edgy. More importantly, he accommodates my every inclination without judgment. Voting becomes an exercise of emotion, even flirtatious and romantic, rather than an exercise of intellect. Creepy, but effective.

The inescapable truth is that the right has work to do. Reasonable people can disagree on social issues. Instead of a la carte arguments over individual issues, the right needs to reestablish the primacy of natural law, the belief that there are basic ground rules humans must follow to thrive as individuals and communities. Without that foundation, there is no basis for the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the conviction that what’s best for individuals and society is limited government. Without that natural law foundation, you may as well be speaking a foreign language to people formed by a popular culture that bounces from issue to issue in relativistic bliss, with no one allowed to judge anyone else’s words or actions.

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