Social conservatives say they're trying to address the problems of family breakdown, crime and welfare costs, but there's a huge disconnect between the problems they identify and the policy solutions they propose. It's almost like the man who looked for his keys on the thoroughfare, even though he lost them in the alley, because the light was better.
Social conservatives tend to talk about issues such as abortion and gay rights, stem cell research and the role of religion "in the public square": "Those who would have us ignore the battle being fought over life, marriage and religious liberty have forgotten the lessons of history," said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) at the Family Research Council's 2010 Values Voter Summit.
But what, exactly, are the policy problems they say they aim to solve?
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, at the same summit, said: "We need to understand there is a direct correlation between the stability of families and the stability of our economy…. The real reason we have poverty is we have a breakdown of the basic family structure." And Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said: "It's impossible to be a fiscal conservative unless you're a social conservative because of the high cost of a dysfunctional society."
Those are reasonable concerns. As a 2009 Heritage Foundation report stated, children born to single mothers "score lower on tests, have increased chances for committing a crime, have higher chances of living in poverty, experience more emotional and behavioral problems, are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and have higher chances of becoming pregnant as teens." And social problems like that do tend to lead to higher government spending.
But those problems have nothing to do with abortion or gay marriage, the issues that social conservatives talk most about.
When Huckabee says that "a breakdown of the basic family structure" is causing poverty — and thus a demand for higher government spending — he knows that he's really talking about unwed motherhood, divorce, children growing up without fathers and the resulting high rates of welfare usage and crime. Those also make up the "high cost of a dysfunctional society" that worries DeMint.
But the "Family Values" section of DeMint's Senate website talks about abortion and gay marriage, along with adoption. There's no mention of divorce or unwed motherhood.
Reducing the incidence of unwed motherhood, divorce, fatherlessness, welfare and crime would be a good thing. So why the focus on issues that would do nothing to solve the "breakdown of the basic family structure" and the resulting "high cost of a dysfunctional society"? Well, solving the problems of divorce and unwed motherhood is hard. And lots of Republican and conservative voters have been divorced. A constitutional amendment to ban divorce wouldn't go over very well, even with the social conservatives. Far better to pick on a small group, a group not perceived to be part of the Republican constituency, and blame it for social breakdown and its associated costs.
That's why social conservatives point to a real problem and then offer phony solutions.
But you won't find your keys on the thoroughfare if you dropped them in the alley, and you won't reduce the costs of social breakdown by keeping gays unmarried and preventing them from adopting orphans.
Social conservatives: "phony solutions for real social ills"
David Boaz writes in the LA Times about the contradiction between the problems that socons identify in society and their proposals to solve them: