There’s a lot of chatter right now in conservative circles about Gov. Romney’s positions and rhetoric on social issues. Yesterday, David and Nancy nailed the legal and policy aspects of the whole deal, and Nancy alluded to a rhetorical point to which I want to return. She wrote the following:
For the first time in many years, conservatives have a presidential candidate who not only shares their core political and moral values but can also communicate those values in a persuasive, compelling, and—yes—unifying way.
Indeed. One of the main things that is getting Gov. Romney in trouble with some social conservatives is that throughout his career–on which he’s never wavered on his opposition to gay marriage–he has consistently stressed the need for tolerance. People seem to read into this that he is insincere in his opposition. But as we here at EFM pointed out during the last cycle, Gov. Romney has consistently used this very language in the course of publicly opposing gay marriage–including in a letter to the U.S. Senate, a Wall Street Journal op-ed, and an address to the Republican National Convention.
I don’t know Gov. Romney’s reasons for this choice of rhetoric, but I happen to think that while it’s terrible politics in a GOP primary, it happens to be both excellent general-election politics and good applied theology. It’s bad primary politics because the Left has poisoned the term “tolerance,” loudly equating it with “approval,” and because to our own discredit, too many of us evangelicals get a charge out of rip-roaring anti-gay red meat–failing to recognize that we, like Paul, are the chief of sinners. And if you read any poll, we are, not surprisingly, doing a terrible job convincing our fellow citizens of the merits of traditional marriage as a matter of public policy or even lifestyle.
Earlier in this cycle, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels got a lot of ink for proposing a “truce” on social issues. That was misguided, as many pointed out, because if you stop fighting while the other side doesn’t, what you’re signing up for is not a truce, but a rout. The rhetorical strategy many of us seem to prefer–including the man I’ve been predicting for months will be the story coming out of Iowa, my former home-state Senator–is to nuke the other side. Gov. Romney’s strategy is neither to declare defeat nor to nuke ‘em, but rather to fight graciously, winsomely, and (based on his own life and character) credibly.
I understand how tempting it can be to nuke the other side rhetorically, believe me. But how far has it gotten us? Let’s quit questioning the crystal clear evidence that Gov. Romney is with us on marriage and abortion, and let’s change our tactics to something that might actually work.