A Moral Majority?

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The Tea Party movement has long stressed its commitment to fiscal issues over social ones, but speakers at the 2010 Values Voter Summit -- while tying themselves to the Tea Party -- have tried to reduce the distance between social and economic conservatives. Citing recent poverty statistics, Mike Huckabee argued that "economic crisis is not a fiscal crisis; it is a family crisis" and that "the breakdown of Wall Street was not a money crisis; it was a moral crisis." Rep. Mike Pence earned his biggest applause when he declared that "we will not restore this nation with public policy alone; it will require public virtue." What's more, the most recent Tea Party celebrity -- Christine O'Donnell -- has made a name for herself as the arch-social conservative Tea Partiers can love. And former Sen. Rick Santorum had this to say, "The idea that the basic moral values of our country are not part of an integrated set of issues that keep our country safe and prosperous is a very dangerous idea." I spoke briefly with David Prentice of the Family Research Council, who likewise believed that there wasn't barrier separating social conservatives from the Tea Party: "In some ways, the divide is artificial; there are a lot of Tea Party folks who are socially conservative ... and there are a lot of cases where social issues have an economic impact."

It's a change in the rhetoric coming from the right, but it's not a surprise; the Tea Party movement is mostly white, older, and shares its demographics with the wider conservative movement, including social conservatives. And while economic issues are much more salient for the current crop of conservative activists, the candidates they champion are no strangers to the culture war; Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle calls herself a "values-oriented person," and in his upset of incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Joe Miller credited the presence on the ballot of a parental consent law, which brought social conservatives to the polls.

If Republicans win the House or Senate, we can count on them to bring the goods when it comes to economics; it will be interesting to see if they read their victory as an endorsement of their social views as well, and license to pursue socially conservative legislation.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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