The Futility of the Conservative War on Pornography

Christopher J. Ferguson in Quillette:

As we head into a tumultuous US election season, it is worth remembering that political parties can get trapped in partisan frameworks that cater to the loudest sections of their base, but which prevent them from appealing to a wider range of voters. Ideological litmus tests not only narrow appeal, but they cause politicians to pander, to disregard evidence, and to reject compromise in favor of rhetorical stridency. Social conservatives’ endlessly sputtering crusade over pornography is unusual in that it brings them into alliance with many radical feminists on the Left. Nevertheless, of the two main parties, it is the moral majoritarians in the Republican Party who have most frequently attempted to generate political capital by inveighing against pornography. This movement’s foundational moment was President Reagan’s Meese commission established to investigate the potential harms caused by pornography. The Meese Report, however, badly over-reached—even those who worry about the effects of pornography acknowledge it made unsubstantiated claims about its effects. Recent US presidential election years have seen promises to strengthen anti-pornography laws included as part of the Republican national platformSixteen US states, mostly conservative leaning, have now declared pornography to be a public health crisis

This ideological obsession with pornography is bad for conservatives for several reasons. First, evidence linking pornography to negative outcomes is weak. Second, it’s an easy issue to lampoon because, notwithstanding conservatives’ expressed outrage about pornography, it is actually more popular in conservative enclaves. And third, producers of pornography involving consenting adults are protected by the First Amendment, so there’s little hope of satisfying constituents’ desire for its suppression.

More here.