The list I have to choose from for president in 2012 is steadily shrinking. The latest name to be scratched off the list? Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). While appearing last night on Special Report w/ Bret Baier, DeMint said, “you can’t be a fiscal conservative without being a social conservative”:
Now, this is something he has said before. At the Value Voters Summit in September, DeMint said, “it’s impossible to be a fiscal conservative unless you’re a social conservative because of the high cost of a dysfunctional society.” I was hoping it was a moment of pandering, but it looks like I was wrong.
In responding to DeMint and other social conservatives shortly after comments made in September, David Boaz, executive vice-president of the Cato Institute, wrote:
Those are reasonable concerns, but they have little or no relationship to abortion or gay marriage. Abortion may be a moral crime, but it isn’t the cause of high government spending or intergenerational poverty. And gay people making the emotional and financial commitments of marriage is not the cause of family breakdown or welfare spending.
When Huckabee says that “a breakdown of the basic family structure” is causing poverty — and thus a demand for higher government spending — he knows that he’s really talking about unwed motherhood, divorce, children growing up without fathers, and the resulting high rates of welfare usage and crime. Those also make up the “high cost of a dysfunctional society” that worries DeMint.
But take a look at the key issues of the chief social-conservative group, the Family Research Council — 7 papers on abortion and stem cells, 5 on gays and gay marriage, 1 on divorce. Nothing much has changed since 1994, when I wrote in the New York Times:
The Family Research Council, the leading “family values” group, is similarly obsessed. In the most recent index of its publications, the two categories with the most listing are “Homosexual” and “Homosexual in the Military” — a total of 34 items (plus four on AIDS). The organization has shown some interest in parenthood — nine items on family structure, 13 on parenthood and six on teen pregnancy — yet there are more items on homosexuality than on all of those issues combined. There was no listing for divorce. (Would it be unfair to point out that there are two items on “Parents’ Rights” and none on “Parents’ Responsibilities”?)
Back then, conservatives still defended sodomy laws, as Santorum continued to do as late as 2003. These days, after the 2003 Supreme Court decision striking down such laws, most have moved on (though not the Montana and Texas Republican parties). Now they just campaign against gays in the military, gays adopting children, and gays getting married.
Why all the focus on issues that would do nothing to solve the problems of “breakdown of the basic family structure” and “the high cost of a dysfunctional society”? Well, solving the problems of divorce and unwed motherhood is hard. And lots of Republican and conservative voters have been divorced. A constitutional amendment to ban divorce wouldn’t go over very well with even the social-conservative constituency. Far better to pick on a small group, a group not perceived to be part of the Republican constituency, and blame them for social breakdown and its associated costs.
Republicans were able to regain control of the House of Representatives because the economy is tanking. Social issues were of little concern to voters. Even at CPAC, the annual conference for conservatives, attendees were much more concerned about the economy than social issues.
I believe very much in free markets, but I’m not a social conservative. Why? Because I believe liberty applies to more than just economics. We are sovereign individuals, and we are entitled to live our lives free of government intervention, provided we are not infringing on the rights of others. It’s what John Stuart Mill called the “harm principle” in his book, On Liberty.
While Republicans are correctly saying that Democrats are in denial about the election and how the agenda pushed these last two years is something Americans rejected last week, they need to heed their on words. Independents are not concerned about social issues, they are concerned about the economy and jobs.
If the GOP takes the mid-term election as a mandate to pass a Federal Marriage Amendment or to find some other social boogeyman to go after, they’re going to wind right back up in the minority.