Has Mitch Daniels’ call for a “truce” on social issues been vindicated? Now that Daniels has signed into law legislation that will stop taxpayer money from going to Planned Parenthood, some people seem to think so. (Planned Parenthood is one of the world’s largest sponsors of abortions.) But color me skeptical. It seems clear that Indiana’s new pro-life legislation got to Daniels’ desk in spite of his “truce” and not because of it.
Daniels, of course, is the governor of Indiana, a prospective GOP presidential candidate, and the darling of the Beltway conservative crowd. He certainly deserves credit for signing into law what Life News describes as “the most substantial block of pro-life legislation passed in Indiana since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.”
But how much credit does Daniels actually deserve? Is his “truce” really part of a “larger strategy” to enact pro-life legislation, as the American Spectator’s Joseph Lawler suggests? And should conservatives worried about Daniels’ commitment to social and cultural conservatism really just give it up, as the Conservative Examiner’s Keith Liscio argues?
Well, let’s review the facts. The fact is that the Indiana legislators who championed the state’s new pro-life legislation were emphatically not parties to any “truce” on social issues. They were legislative advocates who shepherded their bill to Daniels’ desk in spite of his publicly expressed ambivalence and lack of leadership.
(Daniels, Lawler admits, “did not push for the bill and even suggested that he didn’t want it to get in the way of other state business…”)
A lack of executive or gubernatorial leadership may not matter much in a conservative state such as Indiana. (In fact, as Daniels himself observed in his signing statement, the bill passed with “greater than 2:1 bipartisan votes in both legislative chambers.”) But this failure of leadership will pose a real problem in Washington, D.C., which is far more politically divided and contentious.
Indeed, in Washington, D.C., executive leadership typically is required to achieve conservative legislative victories.
But by calling for a “truce” on social issues, and by signaling his unwillingness to have pro-life legislation disrupt other pressing priorities, Daniels already has signaled his reluctance (and perhaps his refusal) to fight for socially and culturally conservative measures.
Daniels’ “truce” talk also presupposes that conservatives are the aggressors in the culture war; and that if we simply stop fighting, the left will follow suit. But this is manifestly untrue.
In fact, the “progressives” are the aggressors in the culture war. They’re the ones who, wholly unprovoked, have initiated hostilities.
For example, the left has demanded that the Supreme Court, the judicial branch of government, ban voluntary school prayer, redefine the institution of marriage, declare null and void legislation protecting embryonic human life, force the Boy Scouts to admit openly gay scout masters, deny a citizen his right to bear arms, etc.
For these reasons, Daniels’ call for a “truce” will be a decidedly unilateral and unreciprocated affair.
Lawler and others suggest that Daniels’ “truce” talk is a matter of style. “Would a stridently socially conservative politician such as Rick Santorum, or even Mike Pence…have put himself in a position to sign a bill defunding Planned Parenthood?” Lawler asks.
Point well taken. Political grace and tact, of course, are important, especially when dealing with contentious social and cultural issues.
But Santorum and Pence are hardly “strident.” The liberal, legacy media portrays and pillories them as such simply because they have the courage to speak out on issues such as life, marriage and freedom of religion.
And that’s another problem with Daniels’ call for a “truce”: The art of persuasion is central to American political life and central to American political leadership. But if you are unwilling to speak out on key issues because of a self-imposed “truce,” then you are handicapping and undermining your ability to lead and to shape public opinion.
In short, it’s not enough for a GOP presidential candidate to support socially and culturally conservative public policies. It’s also important that he use his candidacy — and, if elected, his office — to rally public and congressional support for such measures. Especially in the modern information age, public persuasion and consensus-building are tremendously important.
We know that Mitch Daniels ultimately will do the right thing. What we don’t know — and, in fact, what we have real reason to doubt in lieu of his “truce” talk — is whether Daniels will fight for what is right. The evidence in Indiana, sad to say, suggests that he will not. And that isn’t good enough for a president of the United States.
John R. Guardiano is a writer and analyst in Arlington, Virginia. He writes and blogs for a variety of publications, including FrumForum, the American Spectator and The Daily Caller. Follow him at his personal blog, ResoluteCon.com, and on Twitter @JohnRGuardiano.