Mitt Romney backers are beside themselves. They cannot imagine how the former Massachusetts governor is within a whisker of losing the GOP nomination to Rick Santorum. His supporters see Romney – with his impressive accomplishments and impeccable personal life -- as Republicans’ best shot against President Obama. They emphatically do not expect independents to buy into the social conservatism preached by former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Romney’s team may be in for a rude surprise: voters may be ready to hear a little social conservatism – especially the kind that doubles as fiscal restraint.
The recent skirmish over contraception funding under Obamacare allowed Santorum, a Catholic, to distance himself from the president, and to highlight his stance on various social issues. This is not quite the political quagmire that many imagine.
In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Jeffrey Bell explains why the Santorum surge is not only understandable but possibly a winning route for the GOP. He argues that Republicans have had a more successful track record since embracing social conservatism in 1968, winning 7 of 11 presidential elections. He further points out that Democrats, who have been elected to the Oval Office, including President Obama, have generally shied away from socially liberal positions.
Mr. Obama, for instance, said during the 2008 campaign he believed marriage was between a man and a woman – flying in the face of leftist doctrine. President Clinton argued for welfare reform and making abortion “safe, legal and rare.” Bell points out that George W. Bush carried 31 states in 2004 that could be described as socially conservative. Those states offer 292 electoral votes; winning requires 270 votes.
Bell’s observations remind us that although on the surface the United States appears to be increasingly accepting of liberal orthodoxy – including gay marriage, for instance – we are still a conservative nation. Far more Americans continue to describe themselves as conservative (41 percent) than liberal (21 percent).
These trends are confusing for policy makers and certainly for those running for office. One explanation is that while many of us have adopted more liberal views on how people may live their lives, we are also concerned about the breakdown of society’s institutions and the impact that such a collapse has on our economy. Last week we learned that more than half of children born to women under thirty are born out of wedlock. Overall, more than 40 percent of babies are born to single mothers; in 1960 that figure was less than 10 percent. Some 73 percent of black children are born to unmarried parents; for whites the figure is 29 percent.
While there is little stigma attached to single parenting today, that does not mean that people celebrate the collapse of the traditional family. Nor should they. Studies conclusively link children born out of wedlock to poverty and to higher rates of criminality, and society increasingly picks up the tab. U.S. Census reports show the poverty rate for unmarried parents with children in the United States in 2008 was 36.5 percent, compared to 6.4 percent for married couples.