The question is raised: Is there a place for social conservatism in a conservative political movement? While it seems that many (informal personal polling) take the question seriously, and most often say yes – the more the merrier – there's influence in numbers – a few shrug it off as part of a vast left-wing media conspiracy to split the coalescing conservative movement. Ignoring the question won't answer it and could easily weaken conservative influence before 2012.
The fiscal conservatives of the T.E.A. Party tend to insist that neither political conservatism nor social issues matter. T.E.A. is an acronym for “Taxed Enough Already,” and despite a very strong focus on Constitutional issues and over-reaching federal power expressed among its mass of participants, founders and organizers press to limit their scope to purely fiscal concerns. This they assert, is the big enchilada, large tent conservatism that is needed. Money is the root of all political evil and keeping taxation and spending under control is the final solution.
The political conservatives in the bunch (the old-fashioned Constitution thumping classic political liberals – or in ObamaSpeak: “domestic terrorists”) can very well ask; Haven't we been down this road before? Isn't “liberal tax and spend” verses the “conservative” lesser of two evils a bit too reminiscent of “business as usual”; the usual business that got us into the great mess we're in today? This is a crowd worth considering. Their independent-mindedness stems from a love of country that far outweighs party loyalty. Many of them would gladly support a third party or not vote in protest in a continuing effort to break the old business as usual cycle. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me a dozen or more times and I might have to vote differently!
Real tension has been building around the divisions of varying conservative identities for decades. The great emergencies for Democrats today are nationalized medicine and global warming. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, one of the great emergencies for both parties was that lazy, irresponsible people were weighing down the welfare system. Poor people simply didn't have the right moral character and needed the federal government to step in to “enforce personal responsibility.” (Fathers through the mid- 1990s followed by mothers in the late 1990s.)
To meet the challenge, socially conservative rhetoric was employed to expand the role, power, intrusiveness, size and cost of the welfare establishment and expand welfare entitlements. (That'll teach 'em!) A new era of bipartisanship emerged as both parties focused their zeal on “doing something” at the federal level; completely abandoning any thought of states' rights, privacy, and Constitutional limits to government. To be fair, it wasn't just poor people who needed forceful moral guidance from the new army of bureaucrat crusaders. For the first time in American history, the reach of the “welfare state” was expanded beyond its traditional boundaries (those in need) and into the general population. Fundamental changes in the relationship between government and the people went unnoticed by the mass media and through the 1990s, great battles ensued between the parties over repackaging and taking credit for reforms.
Social conservatism had become the perfect compliment to social liberalism in American politics and fiscally conservative rhetoric the perfect wood from which to build the bridge. Every expansion of government, along with its fancy price-tag was justified because in “theory” it would save tax-payers money. Poverty was a result of poor moral foundation and Bigger Government could fix that. Of course, it didn't work out according to the theory – something many “skeptics” concretely predicted on the basis of observable facts and figures. The media beating those skeptics received make the global warming debate seem quite civilized in comparison. Critics were considered enemies by both partisan camps, and what a filthy beneath human scum type you were to oppose Big Brother this time – right down there with the immoral, low-life deadbeats moral reformers aimed at reforming.
When the facts supporting the morally fiscal “theory” were proven false by their own history, it didn't matter. It's the principle that counts. But like the fiscally conservative theory that yielded unnecessarily higher costs, the adjoining socially conservative “family values” theory yielded an opposite as well – the legal destruction of marriage.
Pushing social issues onto the federal agenda is always a bad idea. The Constitution does not include social issues in federal jurisdiction. Government is structured for the exercise of different types of power and particular treatments by courts for issues at federal, state, and personal levels. Allowing federal take-overs of state (and private) issues is a formula for destruction. Everything becomes arbitrarily politically defined and manipulated. In the case of marriage, this is exactly what the unmitigated social / fiscal conservative perspective delivered.
Republicans blamed the destruction of marriage on "activist judges," but the real problem with judicial activism was that judges had not been active enough in fulfilling their oaths to protect the Constitution by protecting the American people against the intrusion. Applying "equal protection," courts extended the new social policy entitlement of marriage to same-sex couples. This was not an extension of a civil right to traditional marriage. In a legal sense, traditional marriage no longer existed. The overall effect was to deny the legal status of traditional marriage to everyone.
You can call me a skeptic when it comes to solutions formulated by the same minds that created the problem, or in this case a similar coalition of self-defined social and fiscal conservatives. It was clear that the movement to restrict marriage to “a man and a woman” was nothing more than a funeral procession for traditional marriage; because government entitlements are subject to equal protection. This guaranteed that forcing courts to decide, without first reversing the federal intrusion, would produce rulings that bans against same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. Watching the spectacle, it was obvious that resurrecting "traditional marriage"; that is restoring the civil rights associated with family and protection against arbitrary government intrusion, was not the goal of the movement. Nothing was done to address the underlying legal issues. In fact, it can be said that the real political, legal, and moral issues were carefully avoided.
We have experienced one of the most significant transformations in the relationship between the people and the government in our history. And now, without a moment of national reflection on the specifics, we've moved on to other emergencies – the de facto plan apparently being that we'll all just get used to living with another big mess. If the same minds get together to tackle Cap-n-Trade, health care reform, and government take-over of the economy, the mess will definitely get bigger.
A serious conservative revolution cannot be designed from a formula for a return to business as usual. Merely using different rhetoric to expand government and increase its arbitrary use of power is not sufficient to define a philosophical difference from the political left. The genuine grass-roots conservative movement is defined by the mass of participants who have a very strong focus on Constitutional issues and over-reaching federal power. Without that translating to the expulsion of Big Brother from American soil, there is little reason to suspect that conservative unity will be maintained for long; nor would the movement have any appreciable effect if it did. We really need a return to Constitutional rule to limit the destructive power of government; and that requires (by definition really) a conservative movement that meets in a politically conservative tent.
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