The 2008 agenda is remarkable for two reasons. First, the old-school social issues haven't just been deemphasized, they've been completely removed. It's like some old May Day photo from the Soviet archives. There's a very brief mention of a reward fund for people who turn in porn spammers, but that's it. Unless my code word radar is on the blink, there aren't even any oblique references to abortion, gays, sex-ed, prayer, vouchers, or any of the other usual crowd favorites. You wouldn't know the GOP had ever even considered that stuff part of a family agenda.
Second, look at the stuff that is in the agenda. Comp time for workers! Business training for underprivileged women! Health care portability! Anti-obesity programs! SCHIP expansion! If you read the fine print most of these items turn out to be pretty weak tea, but that's not the point. The public face of the party's family agenda is almost pure Democratic-lite technocracy.
And it's not just the House GOP caucus, either. As David Corn points out, John McCain's big fantasy speech about what the country would look like in 2013 after four years of a McCain presidency doesn't make so much as a pro forma nod in the direction of abortion, gay marriage, or any other hot button social issue. They're just gone:
The closest he comes to addressing the priorities of the fundamentalist right is to note the appointment (and confirmation!) of federal judges "who understand that they were not sent there to write our laws but to enforce them."....Any self-respecting social conservative should be enraged. On a day when the California Supreme Court has overturned the gay marriage ban, McCain's speech is insult added to injury.McCain and the Republican Party obviously have big problems this year. McCain in particular is caught between a rock and a hard place: the core of his appeal is to crossover moderates, which means he can't afford to play culture war games, but if he abandons culture issues entirely he'll forfeit the support of a religious right base that's already suspicious of him.
There's no really good answer to this, and so far, at least, it looks like the GOP has decided not to even bother trying to thread the needle: social issues have been erased from the conservative agenda, and if James Dobson doesn't like it, tough.
Can it work? Barack Obama may be willing to let sleeping dogs lie, but will social conservatives go along for the next six months? Will studied neutrality be enough as the biggest state in the union votes on gay marriage? Will evangelicals hold their tongues on vouchers and nativists hold their tongues on comprehensive immigration reform? Maybe, but all it will take is one high-profile event — a Terry Schiavo, a stem cell breakthrough — to uncork the dam. It's going to be a very nervous six months on the culture war front for McCain.