If you've been watching GOP debates since summer, you're ready for a breakthrough. Two such moments happened during the first New Hampshire debate-both with the help of Newt Gingrich.
First, he took on the bias of mainstream media. For nearly 15 minutes moderators George Stephanopoulos and Diane Sawyer tried to corner Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum with the question, "Do you believe that states have the right to ban contraception? Or is that trumped by a constitutional right to privacy?"
Protesting a state ban on contraception, in the minds of the ABC newscasters, would have conceded a right to privacy, a key rationale for the Supreme Court overturning states' bans on abortion in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
The contraceptive question was a bad foil, and the moderators predictably pressed on to abortion and same-sex marriage. After another gotcha question ("Given that you oppose gay marriage, what do you want gay people to do who want to form loving, committed, long-term relationships?"), Gingrich called them:
"Since we've spent this much time on these issues, I just want to raise a point about the news media bias. You don't hear the opposite question asked. Should the Catholic Church be forced to close its adoption services in Massachusetts because it won't accept gay couples, which is exactly what the state has done? Should the Catholic Church be driven out of providing charitable services in the District of Columbia because it won't give in to secular bigotry? ... The bigotry question goes both ways. And there's a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today than there is concerning the other side. And none of it gets covered by the news media."
The second breakthrough followed a meandering line of questions and answers where most of the GOP candidates joined the moderators and President Obama in reducing the war in Afghanistan to a timetable for withdrawal.
"Afghanistan is a tiny piece of a gigantic mess that is very dangerous," said Gingrich, citing threats from Pakistan, Iran, Libya, and Egypt. "You have a region-wide crisis, which we have been mismanaging and underestimating, which is not primarily a military problem. ... And I think we need a fundamentally new strategy for the region comparable to what we developed to fight the Cold War. And I think it's a very big, hard, long-term problem, but it's not primarily a military problem."
The presidential campaign has nearly 10 months to go. It will get tougher and messier. A successful GOP candidate will have to be adept at reframing the debate: Secular bias characterizes not only the debate on social issues but also U.S. efforts to fight two wars in the heart of the Islamic world without mentioning religion.
And believe it or not, secular bigotry plays a role when it comes to the economy and the federal budget crisis. On that I'm still waiting for a breakthrough. In New Hampshire the GOP candidates got to parry over job stimulus, corporate tax rates, and trade with China, but no one addressed the single largest budget issue facing U.S. policymakers of the next decade: entitlements.
Mandatory spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid consumes 40 percent of the federal budget, and left untouched will consume over 50 percent in a decade. At the heart of any debate over what to do about it is what's happened to the family-we have too few wage earners to cover millions of retirees. Yet cultural elites who champion "choice," who promote same-sex households and childless lifestyles, are the first to demand higher taxes-and to ridicule a pro-family candidate like Santorum-whose six children someday will be wage earners and taxpayers contributing to their parents' retirement plus others.
We have seen how lack of religious liberty abroad leads to political repression. But the times we live in at home demand a champion for religious liberty with the courage to speak against secular bigotry. Gingrich isn't the only one who can do it, but he's made an important start.