SO I HEARD SOME GUY ON THE RADIO saying that the Republicans have changed from the Reagan era — now they’re a bunch of social conservatives. But back during the Reagan era, I remember hearing that the Republicans were . . . a bunch of social conservatives. And back then they were pushing the abortion-banning Human Life Amendment — hard — along with a statutory end-run (the Human Life Bill) that simply declared life began at conception. Also school prayer and all sorts of stuff. I’m not actually hearing much along these lines from today’s Republicans, for whom tepid efforts at limiting late-term abortions are a big deal — but who are nonetheless stone-age troglodytes on social issues because they’ve got the same position as Barack Obama on gay marriage — and I’m wondering where this big shift to the right really is. It’s certainly true, of course, that the GOP wasn’t much good on small government under Bush, though they’re looking better in retrospect as Obama spends and spends. But on social issues I’m not seeing it — is this a real shift, or an imaginary one?

UPDATE: Reader Neil Sorens writes:

You are right about this issue. The Republican Party is less socially conservative now than in the past. You don’t hear a lot of support for anti-sodomy laws nowadays, for example, or opposition to civil unions.

The reason for the change in perception is that with fiscal conservatism abandoned, the only distinguishing characteristic of the Republican Party is now social conservatism.

Good point.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Dan Riehl thinks that the culture has changed:

I think the real shift has been cultural and in media. For espousing ideas that were reasonably mainstream during the Reagan Era, one is promptly labeled a religious kook today. While the Republicans have been and remain the more socially conservative party, the Left has been effective in their demonizing of that aspect, especially every time a social conservative Republican goes astray with a hooker, or in a men’s room, for instance. Lastly, televangelists and some notable moderate Republicans have helped demonize this over time, too.

An interesting aside, compare the average televangelist during Reagan to a Rick Warren and you can see how large parts of the religious community have changed, as well. Then there’s Huckabee.

Read the whole thing.