The Myth of “Fiscally Conservative, but Socially Liberal”

Identify in this manner, and you’re a liberal.  You just don’t know it yet.

A friend of mine, a longtime-professed conservative, recently described himself as fiscally conservative, but more and more a liberal when it comes to the so-called social issues.

“We (Republicans) must move the party into more of a big tent,” he said, “and not isolate those voters who might otherwise vote Republican if not for the party position on social issues.”

He was echoing an idea that has been gaining traction of late in some Republican circles – especially among those panicked at having lost two in a row to Barack Obama.  It seemed my friend had bought the idea hook, line and sinker.

Intrigued, I wondered if it were even possible for such a hybrid political creature to co-exist within itself, let alone exist at all.  Was it an exercise in delusion?  Sure, some professional politicians – John McCain comes to mind, have made a career of it by other descriptions, such as “political maverick.”  So, I examined it from a perspective of which persuasion would become most prevalent over the long haul.

I concluded that an approach of “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” would trend to “exclusively liberal” and here’s why:  social spending programs, especially those for which government funding holds a built-in automatic mandate, hold sway over economic policy – not the other way around.

The implementation and maintenance of liberal social spending programs, in particular those which address “need” (the presumptive basis upon which nearly all these programs are conceived) demands loose fiscal policy, not only to exist, but to expand in scope and participation rates – and expand, they do.  USDA Spanish-radio ads encouraging food stamp enrollment, anyone?

Think about it:  has there ever been a social need program which shrunk from its original funding mandate, or was so effective at addressing its target need that it self-eliminated any future requirement of its existence?  It just doesn’t happen!

Let’s apply it to a hot-button topic which is rooted not so much in public need but in “social justice:”  the immigration issue.  Many Republicans are given over to a belief that an amnesty approach to citizenship will bring new voters into the tent.  Yet, the administrative costs required to document and enforce provision compliance of an immigration bill would be staggering;  and that doesn’t begin to address the larger issues enveloping the topic, such as added burdens to an already strapped public welfare system – a certainty given an influx of millions of newly eligible citizens.  Fiscally conservative?  Hardly.

Want a more recent example of this folly?  The Department of Education, conceived and championed as the liberal sacred cow for which it remains, was created as a political payoff by then-president Jimmy Carter in return for support from the teacher’s unions.  It enjoyed some of its most dramatic funding increases (read: expansion of government) under Republican president George W Bush, he of “compassionate conservatism” credentials.

Whether you self-identify as “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” or as a “compassionate conservative,” the path leads to a purely liberal destination.  The conservative moniker is a selling point cleverly designed to impart credibility – window dressing.  Identify in this manner, and you’re a liberal.  You just don’t know it yet.

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