Exit polls and candidate victory speeches confirm the truth that yesterday’s electoral outcomes were rooted in concerns about a sagging economy and soaring government spending. But the public records and political philosophies of yesterday’s victors at the ballot box also convey the quiet strength of social issues in the 2010 election. A confident coalition has emerged with a convergence of convictions.
The freshman class of congressional Members elected yesterday is the most socially conservative since at least the 1980 class elected on Ronald Reagan’s coattails. The 1980 class included a raft of Senators (like James Abdnor of South Dakota, Jeremiah Denton of Alabama, Mack Mattingly of Georgia, Dan Quayle of Indiana, and Chuck Grassley of Iowa) who defeated liberal incumbents, including icons like George McGovern. A generation later, naturally enough, the sons (Evan Bayh, Chet Culver, and Ben Quayle) of several of the major figures in the 1980 cycle (Birch Bayh, John Culver, and Quayle) played diverse roles in a new conservative resurgence in Washington and the state houses.
The analysis of the 2010 returns by several of the leading social issue organizations underscores that they are as pleased with the results as any of the Tea Party and grassroots economic groups that mobilized effectively this year. The Susan B. Anthony List, described by The Wall Street Journal as “the lone conservative group” in the top five independent groups involved in the 2010 election, is celebrating the defeat of five of the six House Members who defected on the key vote on elective abortion funding last March, the election of four pro-life women governors, including the nation’s first Hispanic female governor, and a net change of 15 in the balance of pro-life women in Congress, including the new Senator from New Hampshire, Kelly Ayotte, a “fiscal and social conservative.”
The results were similar favorable for advocates of traditional marriage. The most important election on the 2010 ballot nationwide was the retention vote for three Iowa Supreme Court justices who installed same-sex marriage in the Hawkeye State by judicial decree in April 2009. All three were defeated by margins approaching nine percentage points, a sharp rebuke to judicial activism that will reverberate across the U.S. legal community. The removal of the justices is the first in Iowa since 1962, when the state adopted the merit selection system for state judicial appointments.
Commentary over the past several months has featured numerous examples of pundits attempting to devalue the significance of an integrated framework of social, economic, and defense conservatism. But the 2010 election results do not reflect such divisions. The truth is that key elements of contemporary conservatism overlap and reinforce one another, as the institutions of civil society that depend directly on virtue and habits of character cooperate with and strengthen the processes of limited government and fiscal restraint.
As economist Jennifer Roback Morse has phrased it, “It is simply not possible to have a low-impact government in a society with no social or legal norms about family structure, sexual behavior, and childrearing. The state will have to provide support for people with loose or non-existent ties to their families. So, in the long run, a free society needs marriage.”
The evidence suggests that this message was also part of yesterday’s historic election.