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The 'cute' truce on social issues

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Opinion Zone,Norman Leahy

With word that political consultant Steve Waters, who played an instrumental role in Del. Bob Marshall’s 2008 Senate bid, is joining the George Allen campaign, it would appear, as Jim Hoeft writes, that Allen is “taking [social conservatives’] support very seriously.”  Virginia Republicans have long had to take heed of social conservatives. But do national Republicans still have to do the same?

That’s a question we asked Victoria Cobb, president of Virginia’s leading social conservative group, The Family Foundation.  My colleague Scott Lee spoke with Cobb about the “truce” idea broached by, among others, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. The general concept: put those divisive social issues aside and let’s focus on the economy.

Cobb, referring to the Reagan-model that melded social, fiscal and national defense conservatives into a winning coalition in the 1980s, said “there’s no way that someone can call a truce on social issues, try to put those on the backburner, and still expect to be somebody headed into higher office.”

And that doesn’t apply only to presidential aspirants. “It should be very reasonable for voters to expect governors, or in the case of the upcoming election, senators, to be able to multitask,” Cobb said – meaning that we should expect any serious campaign for these and other offices to have positions on social issues, just as they do on energy, education, federal spending and much more.

“This call for a truce might sound cute,” she said, “but it is not going to advance you to higher office.”

Hence George Allen, who wants to win high office again, reaches out to social conservatives with one of their own…and for those keeping score at home, yes, Mr. Waters did work for The Family Foundation.

Later in the interview, Scott drew the comparison between social and fiscal issues – including not just taxes and spending, but property rights, too -- asking whether fiscal issues have at their core a moral dimension. Cobb strongly agreed, citing the death tax as a particularly odious example of an immoral government fiscal policy.  Fiscal conservatives and libertarians would agree, not just on the death tax, but on taxes in general, property rights, the size, scope and role of government and much more.

Cobb went on to explain that in the current climate, fiscal issues are taking the lead, in part because they have exposed the great philosophical divide between candidates. But “in no way will social issues…go by the sidelines.”

That’s been the rule in Virginia politics for almost a generation and it is obvious George Allen is doing what he can to follow that rule.

The question is whether the national GOP will follow suit – or leave it to down-ticket candidates like (possibly) Allen to carry the social conservative message, while giving the presidential candidate room to, ever-so quietly, put those social issues on low heat.

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