If the 2013 elections sent a message to the Republican Party, that message was more about social conservatism than the Tea Party. Ken Cuccinelli nearly won the Virginia gubernatorial race because he embraced, belatedly, his own legacy as one of the first to stand up to Obamacare. But he lost voters who worried about his social views–not just to the quasi-libertarian spoiler, but also to Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
As Kimberley Strassel pointed out recently in the Wall Street Journal, Cuccinelli’s views on abortion and marriage are no different in substance from those of newly re-elected Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. Yet there was something in Cuccinelli’s style–the sense, perhaps, that he condescended to those who did not share his values–that lent undeserved credibility to the false caricatures of his beliefs that Democrats painted.
Strassel concludes that Republicans need to study Christie’s straightforward, plain-spoken way of defending his social views. That may be. Yet there is something else that the GOP needs to do, and which Cuccinelli–to his credit–attempted in Virginia: namely, to draw attention to the extreme nature of Democrats’ own social views, which are shared only by a minority of Americans, and yet form the basis for the party’s platform.
What is shocking about that platform is not just the substance of its social positions–the implicit idea, for example, that a viable baby in the womb can be aborted even up to the day before birth–but also the role envisioned for the state. The idea that Democrats stand for the individual against the intrusion of government into the bedroom, against Republicans who want to enforce laws against sodomy and such, is quite outdated.
In California, Democrats are responsible for the passage of one of the most intrusive sexual regulations in the recent history of the country. Measure B, which was passed by the voters of Los Angeles County in the 2012 election, mandates that male actors in pornographic films wear condoms, and provides that officials from the local health department will have the responsibility of conducting on-set condom inspections.
These are (roughly) the same voters who also supported Barack Obama’s re-election, partly on the basis of the charge that Republican Mitt Romney was going to outlaw contraception. That lie, propagated with the timely assistance of primary debate moderator George Stephanopoulos, was actually believed by some local Obama voters: one of my neighbors told me that she feared for her four daughters if Romney won.
Condoms were already required under neglected Occupational Hazard and Safety Administration (OSHA) regulations preventing workers from being exposed to others’ bodily fluids. But Measure B went further, ostensibly to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases through penetration itself–even though the industry was already self-policing and does not pose a direct or serious threat to public health in the county.
The real, unspoken purpose of the rule, backed by Aids activists, was to commandeer the medium of porn to encourage condom use–to change the message of pornography (such as it is), shaping the private fantasies of millions of consumers. Now the county is declining to enforce the ordinance, likely because it would trigger a free speech lawsuit. (Representatives from the groups involved did not respond to requests for comment.)
Supporters of the ordinance are pushing the city, regardless, to enforce Measure B. And state legislators are now considering legislation to require the use of safety goggles by porn stars, in order to prevent accidental transmission of infected fluids (semen? breast milk? what?) through the eyes. Again the purpose seems to be AIDS awareness, not actual prevention of disease in an industry notoriously hyper-vigilant about testing itself.
Social conservatives used to try to keep pornography off of store shelves (teaming up with radical feminists to do so). Now social liberals are trying to define the content of porn, to use it as a vehicle for an agenda. Both efforts infringe on the First Amendment, but the new effort intrudes more directly on expression and thought. The goal is not to protect individuals from the enforcement of outdated norms, but to impose new ones.
Conservatives ought to point out the lengths to which blue-state governments are intruding into the private sphere that Democrats pride themselves on protecting. It began, as Charles Krauthammer noted in the 1990s, with a hyperzealous campaign against smoking. It has continued through the intricate regulations of climate change, and now into the most personal realms, including sexuality–and, yes, abortion.
California’s new abortion law, AB 154, permits non-physicians to perform certain kinds of abortion, including aspiration, in the first trimester–effectively legalizing “back-alley” abortions in the name of access (talk about “war on women”!). A referendum to overturn the law may appear on the 2014 ballot. Perhaps the excesses of Democrats’ social agenda will allow conservatives to find a way to fight back on social issues, and win.