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House Republicans and Values Voters

By Ben Shapiro

The pundits have spoken: the Mark Foley scandal will end the Republican Party's dozen-year dominance in the House of Representatives. Dick Morris calls the Foley scandal "the nail in the GOP coffin." "To a Republican Party increasingly defined by the ascendancy of the religious right, the Foley episode is doubly deadly," states George Will.

Why should the Foley scandal end the Republican House majority? Explanations seem to be centering on "traditional values hypocrisy." Republicans proclaim they represent traditional values, so the argument goes. And if the Republicans did not even investigate Mark Foley's misconduct - indeed, if they worked to cover it up - then they clearly cannot be the morality party Americans believe them to be. Amity Shlaes writes that the Foley scandal highlights the split between libertarian-minded Republicans (whom she mislabels as "old-fashioned Republicans") and traditional values conservatives. "Accepting a leadership of heated moralizers was always embarrassing to these more old-fashioned Republicans," says Shlaes. "Now it's beyond embarrassing." Presumably, were the Republican Party more liberal in terms of social policy, this scandal would cause mere consternation, not wholesale political collapse.

In the wake of the Foley revelations, it is social conservatives who are taking the heat. This is entirely wrongheaded. If the Republicans do indeed lose the House, they will lose it because the party has capitulated too much to social liberalism.

Michael Barone points out, "In the five House elections from 1996 to 2004, there has been very little variation in the popular vote percentages for both parties." He attributes this stasis to "a highly polarized politics that divides us along cultural lines. Those cultural divisions tend to be more important to voters than their ratings of presidents' and parties' performance."

For this stasis to be broken, the Republican Party must break it. The Democratic Party has defined itself in terms of values: they are for abortion on demand, homosexual "rights," and First Amendment protections for obscenity. The Republican Party, despite accusations that it is controlled by the religious right, remains more ambiguous in its social policy. They are for some restrictions on abortion but not others; President Bush and many other Republicans are for homosexual civil unions but not homosexual marriage; Republicans are split on the extent to which the First Amendment protects obscenity.

The Republican Party is a big tent party with regard to social policy. Their voters are not. Republican voters are anti-abortion, anti-homosexual rights, and anti-obscenity. It is not the libertarians who will stay home for the upcoming midterm election - it is the religious values voters. And they will stay home because the Foley scandal demonstrates the extent to which the Republican Party is not a values party. It is not conservative hypocrisy that keeps conservatives home - it is a lack of conservatism within the Republican Party.

Mark Foley was allowed to keep operating because House leadership tolerated it. House leadership tolerated it because they refused to proceed with an investigation based on the information they had. And the information House leadership had should have flashed warning lights to any social conservative: Mark Foley, a closeted homosexual, was contacting an underage male Congressional page, asking him for his picture. House Republicans were clearly afraid that should they confront Foley over his advances, they would be accused of discrimination against homosexuals. The House leadership would have to answer questions about why they were so focused on persecuting a gay man without strong evidence of misconduct.

And the House Republicans' hesitancy will cost them. Values voters are far more concerned with protecting Congressional pages than protecting the sensitivities of a gay Congressman. The fact that House Republicans were more concerned with the feelings of Log Cabin Republicans than protecting minors from pedophilic predation sends a message to value voters - the Republican Party has chosen the path of social liberalism rather than traditional morality. The House Republican Party has ended its own majority by moving left, not right.

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