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Social Issues and the Economy Aren't a Zero-Sum Game

Some voters wish politicians would ignore social issues and focus on the economy. The problem is, these two things are intertwined.


"I think all politicians need to stick to the economy and get away from social issues," Marty Folger, a banker from Port Clinton, Ohio, told USA Today in a story posted last night. "I've always been more about the economy, and when it comes to the social issues I don't really let them play into my decisions."

Folger's has been a relatively common reaction to the culture war that's bubbled up around women's reproductive rights and religious freedom. Nobody has emphasized the supposed meaningless nature of these issues more than presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. He has repeatedly deflected questions about birth control, intimating that they are irrelevant. Meanwhile, many other Republicans have charged the Obama administration with reigniting the culture war by handing down the birth control mandate in the first place.

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How to Wage a Modern Culture War: Blame Big Government

When the GOP defends "religious freedom," ultraconservatives see a moral crusade, while moderates see a defense of citizens' rights.


The term "culture war" has been in the news lately, describing a shift in political focus from unemployment and taxes to birth control and gay marriage. Some say it's because the economy is improving (although we have a long way to go). Others, like me, say it's because it's a perennially important discussion that will never go away. But something peculiar is happening this election season: Instead of putting their moral cards out on the table, conservatives are couching their cultural crusades in the libertarian language of "big government" oppression.

Take the latest fight over whether birth control will be fully covered by the Affordable Care Act. Most Republicans (aside from Rick Santorum, of course) won't say outright that birth control is wrong. Instead, they say they object to the government mandate. This tactic has been used before, in the cases of Plan B and the HPV vaccine, but the degree of public political theater has reached a fever pitch this time, with two Senate bills using the guise of "religious freedom"—which would apply not only to religious institutions, but to individual bosses—to deny women birth control and any other medication to which their employers object.

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