Jim DeMint Speaks the Truth

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.

6 Responses to Jim DeMint Speaks the Truth

  1. Pinky says:

    Another point – one I think I made to the Cranky Conservative a while ago – is that without social conservatism, fiscal conservatism doesn’t work. The more unstable the family structure is, the bigger the safety net has to be. Even if Schwarzenegger had been the budget hawk he claimed (or intended) to be, the state has to spend a fortune on prisons and social aid. Why? Because a high percentage of people live in poverty. Why? Because social liberalism has gutted the traditional family and neighborhood structures.

  2. T. Shaw says:

    I agree with Pinky. A return to virtue would go a long way toward alleviating many of the societal deficiencies on which the government feels the need to expend $$$ trillions. Of course, many liberals are libertines and often are morally bankrupt (want all things good except themselves; “not that there’s anything wrong with that”) and may be motivated by the desire to solidify their (dependent/desperate) voting bases . . .

    Still the dilemma: How to persuade the masses to turn away from the seven deadly sins?

    I ought to be able to ascribe from whom I obtained the following.

    Replace pride with humility
    Replace greed with generosity
    Replace envy with love
    Replace anger with kindness
    Replace lust with self-control
    Replace gluttony with temperance
    Replace sloth with zeal

  3. Tony S. says:

    Washington Examiner columnist (and Catholic conservative) Timothy Carney discussed this with Matt Welch of Reason a while back on Bloggingheads. He argues that the belief in limited government and in man’s fallen nature have similar philosophical roots.

  4. jh says:

    I actually think you can be fiscal conservative and not be a social conservative. Those people are called well Libertarians (Yes I know there is among some of them a small pro-life and pro-family wing)

    These creatures exist in great numbers. The problem is they can’t get build a political coalition to get elected

  5. Art Deco says:

    I think it would be more precise to say that there is no necessary logical contradiction between the components of the world view of Gov. Whitman or Gov. Schwarzeneggar, but that the dynamics of political life tend to render it a sort of unstable equilibrium among working politicians (Gov. Schwarzeneggar and, to the extent you might credit him with principles, Gov. Pataki) and on occasion among opinion-mongers as well (David Frum).

  6. Pinky says:

    In theory you can support the ideas of small government and social liberalism at the same time. As a practical matter, they can’t exist simultaneously though.

    It’s like supporting demilitarization and peace. Sounds great. But if the military capability is necessary to ensure peace, then you can’t have both together. Politics involves a lot of brutal trade-offs. We want to have the best colleges in the world, and all our kids to be able to graduate from them. We want to have universal health care with declining costs. We want unemployment benefits that last forever, with no incentive against seeking employment.

    Here’s my thinking. Anything that destabilizes families or neighborhoods removes the traditional local support system. This will result in widespread poverty, which can only be mitigated by the traditional local support system being reinstituted, or the creation of a new larger support system.

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