Ted Cruz wins the Battle of the Houston Subpoenas

The Washington Post observes that Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is getting very little Beltway-media attention for what was, by any objective standard, a very big win:

Here’s the recap: The city of Houston a few weeks back subpoenaed the sermons of five pastors who opposed an ordinance that was aimed at increasing the rights and protections of LGBT residents of the city, which is home to the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city, Annise Parker (D). The subpoenas were issued in response to a lawsuit brought by Christian leaders against the new law, which is in limbo because of the litigation. After conservative Christians cried foul, though, Parker announced last week that  the subpoenas were being withdrawn, because they had become a distraction.

Cruz was a swift and effective leader in the backlash against the subpoenas, which should earn him quite a bit of goodwill from social conservatives in the 2016 presidential primaries, where he’s likely to be a contestant.  This is especially true given that some of his likely competitors are nervous about getting drawn into the gay marriage debate, or any of its peripheral controversies.  And yet, the big-picture significance of Subpoena-geddon seems completely lost on the Beltway crowd, which treated the whole story as a tiny background hiss in the cacophony of 2014 midterm election coverage.

Aaron Blake at the WaPo suggests that the Washington media establishment just doesn’t understand what motivates social conservatives:

What happens in those churches on Sunday isn’t well-understood by the national media, but this was a very big deal for a very key political constituency, and Cruz and others were smart to get involved early on, especially given the religious liberty issues involved.

Expect to hear all of them talk about it a fair amount going forward, as an example of the political left’s “war on religious liberty.” That’s a message that works in some key early primary states.

Even this analysis may underestimate the significance of the issue, and Ted Cruz’s skill at weaving such clashes with overweening government into larger narratives about individual liberty.  There’s a bit of backlash brewing over the excesses of the same-sex marriage crusade, and the public’s comfort level with the transformation of marriage has always been overstated – it’s been more a matter of imposing SSM through court decisions and telling the public resistance is futile than winning acceptance through persuasion and the democratic process.  The result is an environment where much of the public, especially younger people, is okay with same-sex marriage – or, at least, no longer accepts the arguments against it – but they’re queasy about this business of crushing all dissent and forcing everyone to not only accept but embrace it.

There are three big misconceptions the Beltway crowd has about social conservatives.  The first is that all of them are guided primarily by religious belief, unable to make an argument without reference to religious dogma.  Second is that social conservatives are insincere – it’s an unspoken but pervasive article of faith on the Left that people who object to gay marriage don’t really mean what they say.  They’re just unpleasant close-minded folk who want to make life unnecessarily difficult for gay people.

The third misconception is that social conservatism is entirely walled off from every other aspect of American life, as though social issues on the Right are entirely academic discussions, while the Left merrily goes about using the vast power of the State to reshape society to its liking.  The very same liberal that accepts “social engineer” as a compliment for himself will hurl it as invective against a conservative.  

Conservatives can be effectively disarmed by convincing them social and cultural issues are anathema – they must engage the public only on green-eyeshade matters of cost and efficiency, without critiquing the way government changes people, or how culture shapes our expectations of government.  One of those expectations is the belief that what is deemed a social good must be mandatory, and universal.  There are many people who aren’t churchgoers, but who understand that something is terribly wrong when subpoenas are issued against sermons.  After all, a proper respect for liberty must extend far beyond approval.  It should not be necessary to participate in religious services to appreciate their sanctity.  We must not reduce the sphere of permissible speech and behavior to what the government, acting as the avatar of popular will, endorses.  The embrace of liberty necessarily requires respect for dissent.

The Left will judge Ted Cruz dangerous because he might be able to marshal X number of religious supporters in early primary states.  In truth, he’s dangerous to the Left because he can advance conservative causes, including religious liberty, in ways that voters of all backgrounds can understand.


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