The Associated Press reported this week:
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch says legal gay marriage is almost certain to become a reality throughout the United States.
“Let’s face it, anybody who does not believe that gay marriage is going to be the law of the land just hasn’t been observing what’s going on,” Hatch said Wednesday on KSL Radio’s “Doug Wright Show.” “There is a question whether [the courts] should be able to tell the states what they can or cannot do with something as important as marriage, but the trend right now in the courts is to permit gay marriage and anybody who doesn’t admit that just isn’t living in the real world.”
While he has been a proponent of the view that elected bodies and not judges should determine major policy issues, Hatch can also see when a ship has sailed. (“We have an excellent federal bench [in Utah]. Other federal judges down there might not have arrived at the same conclusion that these two have. But I think it’s a portent of the future that sooner or later gay marriage is probably going to be approved by the Supreme Court of the United States, certainly as the people in this country move towards it, especially young people. I don’t think that’s the right way to go; on the other hand, I do accept whatever the courts say.”)
As of this writing there has not been a hue and cry from the anti-gay marriage groups. What would they even say? (“No, we think we can reverse public opinion and dozens of court cases“?) My prediction that gay marriage would not be an issue in the 2016 presidential election seems to be holding up. Neither courts nor elected bodies can hold back the tide of public consensus; and in the case of gay marriage, those who sought to limit marriage to heterosexual couples simply didn’t win in the court of public opinion. Perhaps it was inevitable once child-bearing and rearing became separated from the institution of marriage, but credit goes to the pro-gay marriage movement, which made this about fairness to gay couples. (The “fairness” argument trumps appeals to religious authority on nearly every major issue these days.)
Beyond gay marriage, what if the reality test caught on? Perhaps a brave Republican congressman could say, “I don’t like how they got here, but those 11 million illegal immigrants are here to stay.” Gasp! Yes, no mass round-up or self-deportation is going to uproot a population that large. Like gay marriage, this need not be a voice of approval; but it would be a recognition of reality.
Gaining some steam, the reality-based school of giving up futile fights might see a conservative candidate come forth to admit that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid aren’t going away — unless they collapse financially. Given the complete absence of a constituency in favor of a pre-New Deal America, this would be a wise course.
I can hear the direct-mail and “action alert” Beltway operators seething already. Sell out! Capitulation!
Listen, politics and governance, unlike making money off direct-mail and action alerts, are about the art of the possible. In order to accomplish big and important things you sometimes have to let go of the fantastical wish-list. If the vast number of voters no longer care about or oppose something on the wish list or it is virtually physically and logistically impossible to accomplish, it is a good idea to let it go. Freed from the burden of clinging to harmful baggage, a party or a movement can then gain wider acceptance from voters who think of themselves as modern, real-world people and fight the good fights — defending the Free World, fixing our education system, reforming entitlements, reducing poverty and increasing opportunity. It beats shouting into the wind.