The disappearing social issues

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Whatever happened to the social issues?

During the 2006 midterm election, our Ozarks home received numerous mailings from the Republican National Committee and the Missouri Republican Party.  Several focused on abortion and gay marriage.

Four years later they are largely absent from the pile of postcards that have filled our mailbox.  On the cusp of the August Republican primary, we received a mail drop from a tea party coalition, urging us to vote yes on an anti-Obamacare proposition.  As Dante Chinni reported on this site, we also received a coupon for a free pizza buffet, as well as the promise of a free pocket U.S. Constitution.  Though abortion was mentioned, it received only a few sentences in a large packet of materials.

Social issues were even less visible in the run-up to November.  In the last couple months, we have received over a dozen political mailings. The vast majority have focused on Democratic Senatorial candidate Robin Carnahan and a state ballot initiative on local earnings taxes.  Mostly, they have attacked Carnahan's support for the "disastrous Obama-Reid-Pelosi economic policies." Here is a sampling:

-"When real health care reform was needed, Robin Carnahan supported a government takeover of our health care system. ObamaCare will result in: $1 trillion in additional spending."

-"They have to be out there somewhere. Robin Carnahan--Where are all the jobs?  Millions of jobs have gone missing." A photo shows a man with a pith helmet and binoculars.

-"America is out of money and Americans are out of work." This mailer features an Uncle Sam character holding up a "Will work for food" sign.

-"An American baby born today owes $43,000 as his or her share of the national debt," complete with a picture of an infant.

When I saw the baby on the postcard, I thought that I had received a pro-life mailing.  Instead, it focused on the tax burden owed by future generations. Rather than protecting unborn children from abortion, RightChange.com seemed more concerned with saving them from heavy taxes.

In the Evangelical Epicenters, this is a decided shift.  Just a few years ago, commentators wondered about the prevalence of social issues in the heartland, asking "What's the matter with Kansas?"  Now the emphasis of targeted political mailings is squarely on the economy, even in Nixa's Evangelical Epicenter.

This year there were three notable exceptions to this pattern.

First, we received a robocall touting the Judeo-Christian Values VoterGuide.com, a site that includes links to the Missouri Eagle Forum, the Missouri Family Policy Council, and the American Family Association's Missouri Election Guide. The site also includes guidelines for those wishing to distribute voter guides in local churches. The poor quality of the graphics suggests it has not been the beneficiary of corporate largesse.

Second, we received a long letter from former Focus on the Family head James Dobson, now host of Family Talk. Entitled "Churchill and Obama Considered," it used the British statesman to critique the current administration. Mentioning death panels, federal funding of abortion, and "open homosexuality in the military," it put the social issues squarely on the front burner. Though the hard drinking Churchill seems like an unlikely hero for Christian conservatives, his anti-socialist rhetoric is a good fit for the year of the tea parties. 

Our only mailing from the anti-abortion movement came from National Right to Life.  It compared the positions of Roy Blunt and Robin Carnahan, urging Missourians to "compare the candidates." Bearing the message, "This election. . . LIFE is on the line," it was a lonely voice in the 2010 election cycle. 

Given the low priority of social issues in the campaign mailing free for all, it is doubtful they will rank high on the legislative agenda of the 112th Congress.

Given the large amounts of corporate money funding the tidal wave of mail, it is not surprising that very little of it focuses on family values.  In the newly-published American Grace, political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell distinguish between Sunday School and Country Club Republicans.  While the Sunday School GOP predominates in Nixa, their political mailings are being paid for by the Country Club. 

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