Obama and Social Issues

Science, technology, and life.
Feb. 23 2009 6:11 PM

Obama and Social Issues

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Hey, President Obama! I have a family-values agenda for you.


Well, it isn't really mine. It's the ideas of a lot of other people who have worked on abortion, birth control, sex education, marriage, and gay rights a lot longer than I have. These ideas are good for the country, and they suit you. All I've done is wrap them up in a package. It's in Sunday's New York Times . Take it.

Basically, it's a framework for making tangible progress on moral issues. As you know, these issues tend to be incendiary, toxic, and impervious to compromise. You don't need them. But they need you. They need your pragmatism. The philosophy you sketched in your inaugural address—an era of responsibility guided by old moral truths—works just as well for social issues as it does for economics.

That's the starting point. Just be yourself: old-fashioned about values but practical about solutions. Stick to those two principles, and good ideas will fall into place, forming a moral agenda that's right for our times.

None of these ideas are mine. On birth control and sex education, they come from places such as the Hewlett Foundation , the Brookings Institution , and the National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy . On abortion reduction, you can find them at Third Way and Democrats for Life , along with commendable initiatives from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America . On gay marriage, the thinkers to read are Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Rauch .

I can't promise that all of these ideas will work out politically. If you lead on abortion reduction through contraception, most Catholics and even most Americans who think of themselves as pro-life will go with you. But the Vatican, the bishops, and the hierarchies of the major pro-life groups will fight you tooth and nail. If you lead on gay marriage, you'll be excoriated. Politically, Rauch's proposal to offer marriage by another name makes more sense. I'm just drawing a rough map of the way forward. How we get there is up to you.

There's my pitch. I hope it's helpful.



Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

Hidden Messages in Corporate Logos

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

How Can We Investigate Potential Dangers of Fracking Without Being Alarmist?

My Year as an Abortion Doula       

  News & Politics
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.