Social issues surface in the final Republican debate

Or, what we can learn from Kourtney Kardashian’s accidental pregnancy

Just as Santorum surged into final Republican debate before Super Tuesday, the culture wars reignited; set alight by Obama’s Catholic contraceptives clash, Charles Murray’s book-length jeremiad about lower-class immorality, the Susan G. Komen foundation, and the word “transvaginal.”

No more chatter about bond vigilantes, jobs, taxes, debt. Suddenly, everyone was talking about women’s bodies. It was, in other words, the perfect opening for Santorum.

Several moments from Wednesday’s Republican debate seemed to take place in that alternate Santorum-verse where nary a bra had ever been burned. There was even the question: “Which candidate believes in birth control, and if not, why?”

Some of the candidates interpreted this as a general license to score points with values voters. Gingrich asked why nobody in the media was talking about the real problem, which is that Obama supports infanticide.

Romney chipped in: “I don’t think we’ve seen in the history of this country the kind of attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance that we’ve seen under Barack Obama.” He was referring to, of course, how Obama tried to obtain health insurance that covered birth control for employees of the Catholic church.

Moderator John King tried to steer the debate back, reminding Santorum about his pledge to ring the alarm over “the dangers of contraception” (Santorum’s words).

But Santorum whiffed, muttering something about “children being raised by children, children being raised out of wedlock, and the impact on society economically, the impact on society with respect to drug use and all.”

Was he actually saying birth control creates drug addicts? This puzzled even Ron Paul. “I think the immorality creates the problem of wanting to use the pills,” he told Santorum. “So you don’t blame the pills.”

Cornered by a reporter after the debate, Santorum seemed reluctant to give his full account of how the nation has become a den of sin. Does he think people would have less sex if there were less contraception? “That … certainly was the case in the past,” he said, trailing off.

But it is pointless to try to understand Santorum by asking him about cause and effect or narrative. In his mind, the problems of contraception, single mothers, (and man-on-dog sex) shade into each other. They are all part of that “whole sexual libertine idea,” the moral curse crippling America’s fortunes and prosperity.

Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, which Santorum invoked during Wednesday’s debate, props up this old conservative notion, which is that the poor are poor because they are morally bankrupt — because they live in sin, do not respect the basic unit of the family, and have babies out of wedlock.

The antidote to all this abstract moralizing is the very concrete example of how Kourtney Kardashian became an unwed mother.

Remember Kourtney? She’s the elder sister to Kim and Khloé, who starred in the reality TV spin-off, Kourtney and Khloé Take Miami. The finale of the first season covered her surprise pregnancy by her scummy sometimes boyfriend Scott Disick. (Kourtney of course is a believer in birth control; it’s just that sometimes she forgets to take it.)

The dilemma now is that Kourtney and the baby’s father Scott are separated. Furthermore, the entire Kardashian clan hates Scott, and for good reason. He’s immature and unreliable, cheats, and has alcohol problems. “Well, it’s not gonna be the worst thing if this is what it is,” he said to Kourtney about the pregnancy. These are not the words you want to hear from your baby daddy when you tell him you’re pregnant.

When Kourtney goes to the OB/GYN the next day, the doctor tells her “life is about choices.” She can have a safe abortion if she wants. But — and pro-lifers eat your hearts out here — she takes one glance at her baby’s beating heart on the ultrasound and falls in love. She’s going to keep it.

Yet, keeping the baby doesn’t mean marrying Scott. Indeed, over the next couple of months, Scott continues to make an ass of himself. In one episode, he stuffs a $100 bill into a butler’s mouth. Kourtney decides to keep Scott around, but he’s not husband material. Two years later, the two remain unmarried, even as Kourtney is expecting a second baby.

This has all been a long and rambling way of saying that Kourtney had options that she wouldn’t have had 50 years ago. Her family and the current culture is permissive enough that being a single mother is okay. She’s a businesswoman and doesn’t need Scott for a paycheck. So why marry?

This echoes what is happening across America. It echoes what working-class women in Lorain, Ohio told reporters from the New York Times. Among women under 30 in Lorain, nearly two-thirds of births happen out of wedlock. What those single parents have in common with Kourtney is that they find their baby daddies (or mommies) unweddable: too unreliable, or not fiscally dependable.

Of course in an ideal world Scott would be a prince and a gentleman; the fact that he isn’t and that Kourtney declined to tie the knot is less a sign of their eroding morals than of Kourtney’s insight that a marriage would benefit no one. The problem is not values. It’s Scott.

There are plenty of Scotts out there in America; Santorum is right that broken communities with broken values abetted the dysfunction. But so did the economic forces that keep the Scotts marginalized and underemployed. “Sexual libertine ideas” have little to do with it. Kourtneys just stopped wanting to marry Scotts.