Some say that the Tea Party’s popularity and the general rightward movement in America have come about based solely on economic and anti-establishment concerns. Conservatives have been told that defense of issues like the right to life, traditional marriage, and religious expression should be put aside until the economy is fixed. Especially at a time when independents are looking Republicans to salvage the economy, some conservatives have encouraged candidates and policymakers to avoid social conservatism for fear of turning off voters. This view is misguided.
Things came to a head last June, when potential 2012 Presidential candidate Indiana governor Mitch Daniels called for Republicans to declare a “truce” on social issues, in order to focus on fixing the economy. Daniels was even non-committal about reinstating the Mexico City policy banning funding of overseas abortion, a move that would be politically popular and simple to enact.
Not only are those in Daniels’ camp wrong in principle, they are also need to reevaluate their claims about the political climate. We may ask whether fiscally conservative independents and Tea Party activists will be turned off from Republicans who are socially conservative. Does there really exist in this category a substantial number of voters who are so socially liberal that they would not vote for the economic conservative they like simply because of his views on social issues?
The issue is open to some disagreement, but there are a couple things that the last few months have made clear. The final holdup in Congress last spring over Obamacare was not over the real merits of government-run healthcare, as abysmal as the system promises to be. Rather, Americans were above all concerned with whether this system would fund abortions with taxpayer money.
Even today, the Obama administration is fighting a court battle over stem cell research, after the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that Obama’s maneuverings violated the Dickey-Wicker budget amendment, which bans “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.” Many have come out strongly in favor of Judge Royce Lamberth, and against Barack Obama. The very fact that this story captivated political attention so deeply shows that social issues are not going away any time soon.
To wrap up, let us consider the idea that a unity of principles exists that drives both economic and social conservatism. Many economic conservatives are fed up with government policies not just because they have failed to work, but also because they perceive the policies as being in some way intrinsically immoral; those who denounce an ideology of collectivism would oppose the liberty-robbing actions of the state even if there were a relative economic payoff.
To flourish, society certainly needs a strong economy that can stand on its own feet, but it also needs strong families and moral principles. The failure of conservatives to stand up for social issues often works to undermine the moral high ground they claim on the economy.
An election year like November 2010 is the perfect chance to get genuine social and fiscal conservatives elected. Bob McDonnell’s 2009 election in Virginia was an example of the opportunities that conservatives have to run prudent campaigns. Though he was a staunch social conservative, he campaigned on his solid fiscal credentials; he never betrayed his moral principles, but he avoided putting himself in a place where he would have to.
As the Republican Party moves to the right in the coming years, there is no reason that conservatives should have to settle for candidates who identify with one strain of conservatism but not the other. Fortunately, we do not have to choose between pragmatism and principles.