Published for The Washington Post, June 18th, 2012

President Obama’s decision to lead with social issues in his reelection campaign —immigrationgay marriage and contraception — makes some political sense. His ideologically divisive performance in office has left him with no serious option but a base strategy. Cultural battles inspire the liberality of liberal donors. They may pump up turnout among target groups — Latinos, college-educated whites and single women. They can goad opponents into angry overreaction. And social debates, coincidentally, are an alternative to discussing the state of the economy.

Obama’s appeal to Hispanic Americans has little downside, exploiting a vulnerability Republicans have taken great pains to create. His evolution on gay rights corresponds to a swift evolution of public sentiments. It is his assault on the liberty of religious institutions — forcing their complicity in the distribution of contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs — that remains the most dangerous overreach of Obama’s culture war

This issue concerns not just the outcome of an election but the nature of liberalism itself. In a free society, which should have priority: pluralism or the advance of liberal values?

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