Progressives like to think they’re the engine of history. They fight for change, and eventually conservatives succumb. But it doesn’t always work out that way. History is littered with liberal ideas—pacifism, high taxation, single parenting by choice—that conservatives challenged and defeated. Progressives may drive history, but conservatives filter it.So, Saletan wants to know, what progressive ideas are conservatives going to let through their filter? He finds many conservatives willing or even eager to give up opposition to immigration. Hispanic immigrants are being held up all over as exemplars of American values rather than some kind of threat to them; after all, they are more religious than native born Americans and tend to work hard. As George Will put it, "immigration is an entrepreneurial act." Whether this will really fly with the rural and exurban whites who form the Republican core remains to be seen. After all, George W. Bush and Karl Rove came up in 2000 with a similar platform of courting Hispanics through immigration reform, and got nowhere. But maybe the fading of the 9-11 fear of outsiders, the slowdown in Mexican immigration, and two straight Obama victories will change things on the right.
There are also plenty of people willing to accept higher tax rates on the rich; "Why are we falling on our sword for these millionaires?" was how one Fox commentator put it recently.
Most interesting to me is shifting opinions of gay marriage. The conservative elite seems ready to throw in the towel on this one. More and more conservatives are accepting the logic long promoted by Andrew Sullivan, that gay marriage is really the conservative alternative to a gay culture based on bath houses and sleazy bars. Again, this is so far an elite phenomenon, and this may be a subject that looks very different from the seats of power in Washington and New York than it does from Waco or Spartanburg. But I suspect not. Even Rod Dreher, a very conservative Christian who lives in Louisiana, recently wrote an essay arguing that conservatives should stop opposing gay marriage. Dreher argues that for most Americans now the main purpose of sex (insofar as it has a purpose) is to express love; likewise the main purpose of marriage is to express love, codify it, and present it to the community. Since (Dreher says very emphatically) gay people can love each other, anyone who understands sex and marriage this way finds it hard to see why gays should not marry. Of course, that it not what the Catholic church thinks is the purpose of marriage, but in practice hardly anyone in America thinks of marriage as primarily a channel of grace. I was very much intrigued by this essay, because it helps explain the relationship between the movement for gay marriage and our shifting understanding of love, sex, marriage, and the way we seek to craft meaningful lives.