Two years into a presidency, people in the opposing party generally start looking around for his opponent. But whom they choose depends on what they think our country's greatest problem is. What is the greatest evil we must confront as a nation?
Some evils are with us for so long they become part of our decaying and-to people who see it for the first time-ghastly cultural furniture. The more we hear about same-sex marriage and the more we see same-sex couples kissing and marrying on the news, the more that young evangelicals, according to polls, seem to find peace with a political settlement on the matter. But despite 38 years of nationally legalized abortion, members of the emerging evangelical generation are at least as staunch in opposition to it as their elders are. So there is some hope for what I see as the two great threats to America as an historic experiment in the dignity of self-government: abortion and the breakdown of marriage.
Since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, our laws have sanctioned the killing of over 50 million people. The test of any society is surely how it treats its weakest members. Babies in the womb-the faceless, the nameless, and the most completely dependent on the care of others-are surely the touchstones of our selfishness or our decency.
The family is the foundation of society. By it, we form the next generation into citizens or criminals, social assets or social liabilities. There is no substitute for this "little platoon." But we are working it away, entertaining it away, defining it away. The American family is suffering a thousand cuts from every direction-from tax policy to divorce law.
We need to identify the bloody stain of abortion and the faltering of our families as serious threats that are in every way comparable to the curse of slavery in the 1860s and the threat of Japanese invasion in the 1940s. We must develop a 20-year policy agenda to reduce abortions and draw our laws into conformity with the protection of innocent life. (Thankfully, abortions have been declining since their peak in 1990, but we still lose 1.2 million children a year.)
We need an equally long-term policy that will strengthen and protect marriage and family at least as tenaciously as we now protect waterways and wildlife. Ronald Reagan appointed a Special Working Group on the Family to examine all policies for their impact on the family. That was good as far as it went, but the work needs to be less reactive. A thoughtfully crafted, fully coordinated family policy should recognize the requirements for and the impediments to healthy family life, and inform the president of what is necessary and constitutional to strengthen it. State governors and local governments should do the same. Conservatives these days are hawkish over how this tax or that regulation will affect small business and job creation, and it is good that they are. But the family deserves the same protective scrutiny.
Last year, Mitch Daniels told The Weekly Standard that the next president would have to call a truce on social issues to focus on the nation's more immediate and existential crisis of crippling debt. Social conservative support for him evaporated, even though he is pro-life to his bones. He dismissed the remark to WORLD reporter Edward Lee Pitts, saying, "It is just a suggestion I made once."
Will we pull ourselves out of this financial mess? Perhaps we will. But a nation is more than an economy. And economies go up and down; they tank and they peak. A nation is fundamentally a moral community. If we do not take proper care of our children, both in and out of the womb, there may not be a country to finance that we recognize as America.