By Jonathon Van Maren
For the past decade or so, social conservatives have heard the same mantra: Your issues aren’t winnable. The Left owns this territory. In spite of a slowly growing pro-life consensus and hundreds of pro-life laws on the state level resulting in the lowest abortion rate since Roe v. Wade, many smug political analysts look at the blitzkrieg that took place from the end of the battle over marriage to the thick of the bathroom wars and conclude that the Left has conquered the culture—they’re just mopping up now. In certain states, at least, that conclusion seemed unavoidable.
And then the election last Tuesday changed the narrative so quickly that it gave me hope for a détente between those who disagree over these fundamental issues, the sort of common ground that exists between me and many of my liberal friends: they know I don’t agree with gay marriage, but they also think it’s pretty disgusting for a gay couple to attempt to force their way onto a Christian’s farm using force of the law to host a gay wedding.
The reason? For the first time, suddenly the Left is beginning to realize that perhaps their campaign of retribution against those who oppose their social agenda has the potential to backfire—and that even many who may agree with the essence of their social agenda find their lust for crushing dissension rather distasteful.
For example, you may have missed this bit of good news out of Oregon last week, from the Independent Journal Review:
For the first time in 14 years, Oregon voters elected a Republican to a state office, but there’s a bit more to the story than simply a surprising win in a deep blue state. Lawmaker Dennis Richardson, a respected, though losing, candidate for Oregon governor in 2014, came back to defeat well-known Democrat, Brad Avakian, in the race for Secretary of State.
Avakian is the state bureaucrat who went after the business of the Christian bakers, Sweetcakes by Melissa in 2013. The owners, Melissa and Aaron Klein, refused to create a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. Though the bakery served gay customers, the couple believed that by participating in the wedding ceremony, they were condoning the marriage, which conflicted with their Christian beliefs.
Avakian’s Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) went after the Kleins, resulting in them being forced to close their business. Aaron Klein tells Independent Journal Review that the state garnished their bank accounts and assets to satisfy a $135,000 fine. In all, he says, the state took $144,000 from them.
Oregon political analyst, Rob Kremer, told Independent Journal Review that Avakian campaigned on the idea that he would use the Secretary of State’s office to further his progressive political agenda and — surprisingly — that turned off a lot of Oregon’s liberal voters:
“I think people in Oregon were uncomfortable with Avakian’s stated objective of expanding the scope of the Secretary of State’s office to broaden a progressive agenda.
While I don’t think the Sweetcakes by Melissa case was the only thing that turned off voters, it was certainly an example people could point to to show that he was abusing his authority.”
Voters weren’t the only ones turned off. Avakian didn’t receive one major state newspaper endorsement during the race.
Aaron Klein told Independent Journal Review that he thinks there’s an abject lesson in what Avakian was planning to do as Secretary of State:
“His losing was a good sign that people don’t agree with somebody who is anti-constitutional to the nth degree. He never recognized our religious constitutional rights in his office. He just ignored them. And then he went off-kilter with ideas about what he wanted to do in his new office.
Klein also said that if people wondered what Avakian wanted to do at the Secretary of State post, all they had to do was look at what he’s done at BOLI:
“He used his office to execute a personal bias and I think people thought he’d do the same with Secretary of State. Most people don’t know his son is gay and he’s got a dog in the fight. For him it’s personal.”
Klein, his wife Melissa, and their five children aren’t doing a ‘happy dance’ at home over Avakian’s defeat. The BOLI chief still has two years left on the job. Klein says he’s working as a garbage truck driver to make ends meet, though he was recently injured on the job so is temporarily collecting disability.
Klein says that they’re still appealing their case to the Oregon Supreme Court and believes that the religious liberties case will ultimately make it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Other news sources, too, reported that even those who supported gay marriage wanted to send a message to zealous progressive politicians: Gay marriage is legal. Stop the witch hunt.
The New York Times went so far as to say that the relentless focus of the Left on issues like transgender bathrooms may have cost them the election: “The Democrats’ stunning defeat in the presidential race and continued struggles in lower-level contests have jolted party leaders into concluding that their emphasis on cultural issues has all but crippled them by diverting voters’ attention from the core Democratic message of economic fairness.”
Bill Maher, who has been going through spasmodic reality checks as the Trump Train bore down on him, brought the issue up on his HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher. After demanding that the Left pipe down about transgender bathroom hubbub prior to the election, Maher’s post-election synopsis was grim and blunt. “Maybe liberals and conservatives need couples therapy,” he said. “A safe space where liberals can say to conservatives ‘Your obsession with guns makes me uncomfortable,’ and conservatives can say to liberals, ‘We feel bullied when you demand we make gay wedding cakes.’”
Later, Maher took it even further, blasting political correctness as one of the main reasons the Left had become so fundamentally out of touch, scoffing at the idea of “white privilege” and noting that the liberal refusal to admit that Islam contains a component of violence made many dubious of the Left’s ability to confront it. His conclusion was to the point: “Democrats have become, for a lot of Americans, a boutique party of fake outrage and social engineering, and they’re not entirely wrong about that.”
To which David Axelrod—yes, that David Axelrod—replied, “No, I don’t disagree with you…” before going on to defend Barack Obama, whose legacy will now likely fade into that good night.
I have to say, I’m genuinely surprised. I believed religious liberty had to be defended at all costs, but I was counting on a Hillary Clinton presidency further cementing all the moves Barack Obama had made so far and making many more herself. I know that most people aren’t supportive of little family bakeries getting shut down and farm owners getting sued for not hosting lesbian weddings and the entire real world conforming to the current self-perception of a tiny micro-minority, but I simply didn’t think they cared enough to push back. I figured that Christians were on their own. To find out that a huge swathe of the population was equally as tired of the relentless progressive Second Reconstruction of America was an enormous relief, even if it simply proves to be a short reprieve. In the meantime, we have work to do—and perhaps the doors we push at will now be ajar.