Sunday, August 26, 2012

Why Fiscal Conservatives Lose Political Wars

Strict fiscal conservatives react to social conservatives pretty much in the way devils react to holy water. When an ardent political fiscal conservative identifies himself as such, his intent is to indicate whom he means to oblige once in office. But fiscal conservatism without some measure of social conservatism is what William James, the father of American pragmatism, called a dead option, because it leaves out of account essential social configurations. At bottom, all politics is social.

Aristotle begins his general discussion of politics with a consideration of the family as the principal political unit of the state, but then the Aristotelian state is much larger, deeper and wider than that of the fiscal conservative who flees the field when the political chatter turns to a discussion of social considerations. This abject pants-on-fire flight leaves progressives and liberals in charge of the family, the church, the school, the constitution – America’s primary socio-political document -- and all other social and political mediating institutions.


The problem with such timidity is that it surrenders the political field to modern disintegrative forces. Just as Benjamin Franklin warned the children of the American Revolution that they must KEEP the Republic bequeathed to them by the founders, so the society in which fiscal conservatives live and move must be kept in relative good order, presumably by social as well as fiscal conservatives. It simply will not do for conservatives to pretend that the fiscal state has nothing to do with the moral or social order.
And, in fact, liberals and progressives suppose no such thing – which is why they have won most of the battles fought on social grounds here in Connecticut.
The forces of social disintegration, so evident in cities run for years by the state’s dominant Democratic Party, provide unimpeachable testimony to the effects of the flight of Republicans from social issues. To take but one instance, the father, as a force for social good in city life, has pretty much disappeared from the urbanscape. His passing will not be mourned by fiscal conservatives who, like Pilate, are only too happy to wash their hands of inconvenient social issues.
A friend who counts himself both a fiscal and social conservative meets the usual cowardly retreat from moral and ethical issues by asking fiscal conservatives in full flight from their social responsibilities to name ONE piece of legislation passed in the last two hundred years that has NO social consequences. This question produces a stunned silence – for good reasons.
Every piece of current legislation, all previous statutory laws, every judgment by a court, every political decision made by a chief executive, necessarily affects the social sphere; and if laws and regulations and taxes and the rate of spending – generally considered to fall on the fiscal side of the fence – were to have no social repercussions at all, they would be entirely worthless. What exactly is the point in passing a piece of fiscal legislation that leaves the social status quo untouched?
The division usually cited between fiscal and social conservatism is the most conspicuous red herring of the modern age, often thoughtless and prone to baneful influences exerted by political demagogues.
Some Connecticut delegates to the national Republican convention recently told a reporter that “abortion is one issue that divides them from the national party,” which is true enough. A Republican abortion rights supporter gave it as her opinion that "social issues have no role in political platforms," and Republican Party Chairman Gerry Labriola said the economy, not abortion, should be the focus of the convention, because abortion “is not a relevant issue of our time."

What Connecticut Republicans who claim they are fiscal and not social conservatives really mean by so identifying themselves is this: Democrats, especially here in the Northeast, have routed Republicans on some social battlegrounds – abortion, gay marriage, fragging the Catholic Church, spanking millionaires, and so on -- because these battles have been ceded to them without a struggle; it is pointless to fight on ground long surrendered and captured by the opposition. Bearing in mind the baleful effects of Obamanomics on Connecticut and the nation, the general election, tremulous “fiscal” conservatives suppose, can be won on economic issues alone. Therefore, say the fiscal conservatives, in general elections Republicans should scrub their campaigns of social issues and yield to Democrats whenever possible. They are wrong.
Mr. Labriola certainly didn’t mean to say that abortion “is not a relevant issue of our time." The issue of abortion in our day is at least as relevant as the issue of slavery in the time of Lincoln. It most certainly has been a relevant issue for opposition Democrats. But then, Connecticut Democrats have had an easy time of it because hard questions are never put to them by Republicans in full retreat from the issue.
One wonders why Mr. Labriola would be unwilling to defend the position on abortion staked out by Hillary Clinton in her senate run against Rick Lazio in New York only a few years ago. Mr. Lazio charged that Mrs. Clinton – the wife of the guy who said abortion should be “safe, legal and RARE” – supported partial birth abortion which, he noted, Daniel Patrick Moynihan had called “infanticide.” No, said Mrs. Clinton, she DID support a ban on partial birth abortion, provided the ban did not endanger, in a specific instance, the life and health of the patient as determined by the doctor.
Now, there were social conservatives at the time who thought that Mrs. Clinton’s proviso – no partial birth abortion except when the “health” (psychological well-being?) of the patient is in question – was commodious enough to admit abortion in most cases; but no one would have argued that the discussion was irrelevant.
And no conscientious Republican today is arguing that an impinging fiscal issue – Is it proper for the state to violate the religious precepts of Christian organizations by leveling upon them a “tax” should they refuse to provide abortifacients to their employees? – is not also a religious, ethical, constitutional and social issue.
All fiscal political issues are social issues because they affect society; and all political social issues are fiscal issues when they draw upon the public purse. Republicans in Connecticut will begin to win politically when they stop retreating and start fighting. You cannot win any political war unless you are willing to capture and hold social territory.
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