Jonah on Clinging Voters

Jonah Goldberg, author of the much-celebrated Liberal Fascism, asks:

Ornstein’s views of Obama’s “cling to guns and religion” comments may not be too far out of sync with Obama’s, but I was under the impression that the GNP thesis was somewhat different. Again, I haven’t finished the book, but I thought that social conservatism was actually a rational strategic response to economic uncertainty insofar as traditional values help protect you from the gales of globalization etc. Obama’s thesis is almost the reverse: these silly sky god worshippers need to to let go of their silly boomsticks and hatred of f’ererners and grab hold of the enlightened life raft of big government instead. Maybe Douthat or Salam can set me — or Ornstein — straight here.

Jonah is absolutely right about our take — social conservatism isn’t flim-flam to which one clings, but rather, as he puts it, “a rational strategic response to economic uncertainty.” And I think that Obama’s remarks were a clumsy attempt to understand a different set of issues, i.e., why do struggling Pennsylvanians care so much about guns? He was buying into the Frankian take on the working class, not ours. On gun rights, I take the sometimes a cigar is a cigar view — Americans care about guns because guns are a part of our lives.

Interestingly, and this is a point Russel Shorto doesn’t quite get in his very smart Times Magazine piece on fertility, social conservatives have adapted to a world in which women have entered the workforce very well. Reflexive traditionalism is a way of life embraced by the Amish, Haredi communities, etc., but not, by and large, by American social conservatives, who embrace technological change and economic advancement. They recognize, however, that strong, stable marriages are the foundation families need to build wealth.

In their brilliant mini-essay “Marriage and the Market,” Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers advance a very different premise — that marriage has become a consumption partnership, not a production partnership.

On the flipside, the decline in marriage among less-educated women would be an important concern if we were still in the world where women needed a husband for financial security. Less educated women have their own market opportunities available to them and have less to gain from marrying today than in the past. The new hedonic model of marriage thrives when households have the time and resources to enjoy their lives. This suggests that increasing the financial stability of these households will lead to marriage rather than marriage leading to financial stability.

There is obviously some truth to this. But I wonder — what if the trend isn’t interrupted, if less-educated women continue to make gains while less-educated men continue to fall behind. Will this lead to marriage, with a matriarchy replacing the patriarchy? I’m skeptical. While it may be true that marriage is increasingly a consumption partnership for more-educated individuals, I sense that the production partnership logic still obtains for those on the first rungs of the economic ladder. Also, I have to assume that Stevenson and Wolfers recognize that married couples have an advantage when it comes to pooling risk and facilitating career transitions. That’s hardly trivial.