When a politician says something that’s this on the money, one wonders if there is a “but” in there to soften the message. Not with Jim DeMint:
You can’t be a fiscal conservative and not be a social conservative.
Naturally this bothers AllahPundit and some of the other shrieking libertarians at Hot Air, but DeMint is of course right.
First of all, anyone who has paid any amount of attention to politics over the past couple of decades should recognize that the people who label themselves fiscally conservative and socially moderate or liberal – let’s call them cafeteria conservatives – are the first people to betray the cause of limited government on economic issues. A prime example of this is Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. After a couple of years on the job in California it was the Governator who turned into an economic girlie man, caving into the unions and endorsing all sorts of regulations that are crippling California’s economy. Similarly, the only Republicans in the Senate to vote for the stimulus last year were the Senators Snowe, Collins, and Specter, all social liberals. At least Specter dropped all pretense and switched parties.
John Hawkins did a bit of analysis that shows a fairly strong correlation between fiscal and social conservatism. Though the measuring device is a bit crude, it shows that when it comes to economic issues, social conservatives are the most reliable votes in favor of fiscal conservatism.
Second, it is simply illogical to divorce economic and social issues. As I’ve said in the past a conservatism that disregards social conservatism simply isn’t conservatism. If one approaches conservatism more as a general political philosophy rather than a political ideology, one realizes that social and cultural issues are the central core of conservatism. Conservatism is at root a belief in tradition, among other general beliefs. Though Russell Kirk’s six tenets of conservatism should be taken as the end all be all definition of conservatism, they’re a pretty good start. Do you see much about fiscal issues in those six tenets? Certainly tenet four, but for the most part conservatism is about preserving the social order. If you eliminate social issues from the conservative creed, you’re left with nothing of substance.
Finally, I think that there is great misunderstanding as to what social conservatism entails, especially as it relates to the concept of limited government. The notion that social conservatives want the heavy had of government involved in all personal matters is a bit of a strawman caricature. One of the commenters at Hot Air put it rather succinctly:
This is what I’m talking about, Libertarians have this irrational and delusional fear about a social conservative instituting some sort of moralistic regime if elected. George W Bush was one of the most religous and socially conservative Presidents we have had in a long time, he never did such a thing. Neither did Reagan. It’s an unfounded fear Libertarians need to get over.
Libertarians often point to opposition to legalized abortion as evidence that social conservatives are in favor of big government on social issues. Well if that’s the case, does that mean support for the criminalization of murder, rape and theft makes one a big nanny-stater?
In point of fact the left is as often guilty, if not more so, of soliciting government to back them on their pet issues. For instance, on the issue of gay marriage it is the supporters of gay marriage who want the heavy hand of government to intervene, change the rules, and provide state support. When teachers are prohibited from leading a public school class in prayer, who are the ones looking for the government to intervene and enforce that ban? It’s the nanny staters on the left that want schools to hand out condoms. Etc.
Frankly, social issues usually are determined outside of the legislative arena. But when government has acted over the past hundred years, it is usually not in a way that conservatives favor. The social conservatives as proponents of big government meme is simply a myth that masks leftists activism. Conservatives are generally not looking to the government to provide aid and comfort on social and cultural issues, caricatures to the contrary notwithstanding.