The Values Agenda

November 23, 1993|By CAL THOMAS

Washington. -- Diviners of what has come to be known as ''conventional wisdom'' are declaring the social-issues war over, with the victory going to the ''moderates.'' The Republicans, according to C.W., should abandon the values issues because they have lost.

E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post thinks he has heard the trumpet sounding retreat. In a recent column he quoted Pat Robertson on the divisive abortion issue from a ''Nightline'' appearance: ''I would urge people, as matter of private choice, not to choose abortion, because I think it's wrong. It's something rTC else, though, in the political arena to go out on a quixotic crusade when you know that you will be beaten continuously. So I say, let's do what is possible. What is possible is parental consent.''

Far from surrender, that is what I call principled pragmatism. You don't concede the ideal, but you work for what you can get now and press ahead toward the goal of protecting all human life in the future.

In the television age, where even murder can be solved in one hour, it is important to realize that great social movements take time. It was more than 100 years between the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Republican Party should not abandon the values agenda. What it needs to do is reposition itself so that it does not appear to be imposing values from the outside. It should be perceived as wishing to work with people, using the limited power of government to help them strengthen their own families and protect them from external threats, such as crime and internal rot, divorce, out-of-wedlock births, drug abuse and other destructive behaviors.

The Republicans can bash the Democrats for failures, particularly in the social arena, but they must offer an alternative that is more than a litany of the opposition's shortcomings. They must develop a policy that doesn't impose power from above but empowers from below.

People who vote for Republican candidates ought to see themselves as supporting a party and candidates that will help restore to them -- not to government -- the tools and the strength to build (or rebuild) their own lives. At the center of all construction is a sure foundation that must consist of certain moral and ethical principles that never change.

Rightly crafted and properly articulated by effective leadership, Republicans can drive a stake in the heart of the Democrats' government-as-our-keeper agenda, which has been sucking the financial and moral lifeblood out of the country.

As for the debate over abortion, which Mr. Dionne and others declare finished, Republicans should announce that it has just begun. They should grab the compassion issue from Democrats, with support for crisis-pregnancy centers and programs that offer alternatives to abortion. They should expose liberal efforts to deny women access to infor- mation that keeps them from making informed choices. They should befriend the inner cities where Democratic politicians have failed so miserably that some think the National Guard is their only hope.

Thus the GOP could sow the seeds necessary to alter the political landscape on abortion, crime and other social issues. But we must remember that it cannot be changed from the top down, because abortion and crime are not the cause of our social stagnation and cultural disrepair. They are a reflection of it. And no political process or leader will be able to solve these problems, so many of which are a matter of the soul, where presidents, Congresses and courts have no jurisdiction.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

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