A Note to ‘Fiscal Conservatives’ From a Social Conservative

One frequently hears this political self-identification: “I’m socially liberal, but fiscally conservative.” Or, “If the Republicans weren’t conservative on so many social issues, I would vote Republican.” Or, “It’s too bad the Christian Right dominates the Republican Party. I would vote for the Republicans on fiscal issues, but I can’t stand the religious right.”

The same sentiment holds among many inside the Republican Party. Most secular conservatives and the libertarian wing of the party agree: Let’s jettison all this social stuff — most prominently opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion, and this unnecessary commitment to religion — and just stand for small government and personal liberty.

To many people these positions sound reasonable, even persuasive. They shouldn’t.

Here’s why.

To respond to the first argument, it is hard to believe that most people who call themselves fiscal conservatives and vote Democrat would abandon the Democratic Party if the Republican Party embraced same-sex marriage and abortion.

The left and its political party will always create social issues that make Republicans and conservatives look “reactionary” on social issues. Today it is same-sex marriage, the next day it is the Republican “war on women,” and tomorrow it will be ending the objective male-female designation of Americans (Children should have the right to determine their gender and not have their parents and their genitalia determine it, even at birth). Or it will be animal rights, race-based affirmative action or an environmentalist issue. Concerning the latter, how many “fiscal conservatives” who vote Democrat are prepared to abandon the party on the climate change issue? I suspect very few.

Fiscally conservative Democrats are fooling themselves and others when they announce that would abandon the Democratic Party if the Republicans just weren’t socially conservative. They didn’t leave the Democrats before same-sex marriage was an issue and they won’t leave them if same-sex marriage ceases to be an issue.

Let’s turn now to God and religion, the most obvious expressions of social conservatism. There are many Americans — among secular conservatives, libertarians and secular fiscal conservatives who vote Democrat — who say that they, or many others who now vote Democrat, would vote Republican if it were not for the social conservatives in the Republican Party who are so adamant about God and religion.

This group, too, is fooling itself. Anyone who thinks that you can have smaller government — the central issue for libertarians and other fiscal conservatives — without Judeo-Christian religions and their God-based values neither understands the Founders nor human nature very well.

The entire American experiment in smaller government — and even in secular government — was based on Americans individually being actively religious. The Founders — unlike the European men of the Enlightenment then and the left today — understood that people are not basically good. That is a defining belief of Judaism as well as of Christianity. Therefore the great majority of people need moral religion and belief in accountability to a morally judging God to be good. In other words, you will either have the big God of Judaism and Christianity or the big state of the left.

Social conservatives know that they need fiscal conservatives. They know that the bigger the state, the smaller the God. They know that proponents of the ever-larger state want their own gods — like Mother Earth — to replace the Bible’s God. Fiscal conservatives need to understand that they need social conservatives. They need them philosophically, for reasons explained above. And they need them politically. There will never be enough Americans who are fiscally but not socially conservative to win a national election. Sorry.

Dennis Prager’s latest book, “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph,” was published April 24, 2013 by HarperCollins. He is a nationally syndicated radio show host and creator of PragerUniversity.com.

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  • Rose

    There is a new book out about millennials, young people in their twenties and early thirties and their lack of allegiance to political parties, religious denominations and many social institutions including marriage. They are very free-wheeling and independent in thought and action. The book is called The Next America. It makes all the obsessing about right and left seem so passé.

  • brickman

    Prager’s argument misses the way that politics really works. He says that if the GOP yields on same sex marriage or abortion that the slippery slope will lead to animal rights and other things. The only problem is that people draw the line at the things they approve of or in the least think are reasonable. He sees people as being in favor of the entire party line of liberalism or conservatism. Not true. Most people make up their own minds on each issue and don’t care about party orthodoxy.

  • ARJ127

    Dennis, you said ” The Founders — unlike the European men of the Enlightenment then and the left today — understood that people are not basically good. That is a defining belief of Judaism as well as of Christianity.” Perhaps you should have mentioned that the Founders were generally not Christians (and certainly not Jews). Historian Gregg L. Frazer argues that the leading Founders (Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Wilson, Morris, Madison, Hamilton, and Washington) were neither Christians nor Deists. (Gregg L. Frazer,The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders: Reason, Revelation, and Revolution (University Press of Kansas; 2012)). Many were supporters of “theistic rationalism” in their religious views.

    They would probably be horrified by the social conservatives’ attempts to put religion into government. Hence, the First Amendment provided freedom from relgion as well as the freedom of religion. Social Conservatives would have us all live in a backward theocracy based on the clearly illogical and unsupported delusions of religion. As a conservative and athiest, I resent anyone labelling me as a Democrat.

  • Brian Fr Langley

    Limerick?
    .
    It’s always my passion to have my own way,
    and I don’t mean tomorrow, I mean yesterday,
    whether sex, house or car,
    don’t I debt let it mar,
    since somebody else is willing to pay.

  • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

    Very interesting perspective. As someone who is fiscally conservative but not all that socially conservative, I can respect what Dennis Prager is saying here. I want the Republican party to be a “bit tent” party like it has traditionally been. I want there to be room in it for all kinds of people – even ones who don’t think of themselves as being ANY kind of conservative.

    My issue with very socially conservative people isn’t that I think they need to go away. I just want some of them to examine their conduct a bit more when standing up for what they believe in. When they appear to live up to the caricature that liberals portray of them, it DOES turn people off of the Republican party (regardless of what Prager says in this column).

    I’d also like to challenge his notion of a fiscally conservative Democrat. They certainly USED to exist, but I’ve seen little evidence that they still do.

    • Brian Fr Langley

      I noted President Obama uses an extra-ordinarily unusual word this past week when he launched his new initiative on families. He specifically used the word “delay gratification”. Here’s the rub. What is fiscal conservatism, if it’s not simply “delaying” gratification? Whether Nation or family, the concept is simple. You buy it when you can pay for it. (an ethically sound and Judeo-Christian concept) But that brings us to social conservatism. What is social conservatism, if it’s not simply delaying gratification? (an ethically sound and Judeo-Christian concept). What fiscal conservatives miss (and I believe really miss) is that a society without one, will never vote for the other.

      • Rose

        Are you saying we as individuals should not buy anything until we can fully pay for it?

        • Brian Fr Langley

          Perhaps you’d be happier with, “you buy it when you can afford it”.

          • therealguyfaux

            “If you like [something], you can keep it– if you’ve paid for it. Period.”

          • Rose

            Well, most of us would never have had a first home, first car or needed dental work if we had had to wait until we could pay cash for it. Ditto putting kids through college. Credit makes the world go round, but of course some people get in way over their heads. I am very fiscally responsible in my personal life, but I know that the government budget is not like a household budget.

          • therealguyfaux

            Actually, I was joking about foreclosure/repossession.
            But you are right– obviously there has to be some self-control over how much credit one avails oneself of. People had this strange notion that if their income allowed them to be able to swing the monthly payment on a 300K house, that somehow buying a 250K house and being able to better pay other bills was not such a good idea– “your house is your biggest investment!” And like any other investment, no guarantees, as we all discovered about 5-odd years ago, when that home you bought for 300K wound up being a 250K home anyway.

          • Sheila Warner

            You bring up an excellent point. Why is it that we are satisfied with what we have until we get a substantial increase in salary? If that $250K house meets our needs prior to the raise, why upgrade? We’ve lost our ability to prioritize.

          • Sheila Warner

            Why shouldn’t a government budget be more like a household budget? My problem with the government budget is that we borrow for items not necessary to the national security of the nation. Example? Many of the government funded grants, such as the one that paid for the shrimp on the treadmill and turtle tunnels. Worthy projects ought to use private money for funding. If what is being researched has merit, people will want to invest in the research. IMHO, of course.

          • Sheila Warner

            I understand your point, and agree with it to some extent. I’m curious if your opinion extends out to mortgages. Should a person save up to buy a home without financing? That’s the way of the Amish, who build houses and barns for each other, and it works well for them. If you agree that mortgages are unethical, you are consistent. If you believe that mortgages are not unethical, I’d be interested in knowing why. Just curious, really, not trying to start a debate with you.

          • Brian Fr Langley

            Mortgages are NOT unethical if you can afford to pay for them. All a mortgage is, is renting the use of money. While I wanted my own house the day I left my parents house, I delayed gratifying that desire until I convinced a bank I could afford one. Unhappily these days Governments are buying programs in our name we can’t afford. If one adds State and municipal debts to Federal debt, (and remember there is really only one taxpayer), then add the totally unfunded pensions, (State, municipal, and Federal) Medicaid, and other unfunded obligations. The total debt owed by Americans, has actually become more like 200+ trillion dollars. Depending on how you count households, this adds up to around a million dollars per household. An amount that likely can never,nor likely will ever, be paid back. All outcomes left are unethical and immoral. Inflate the money, (stealing value from current holders) default, or tax your children and grandchildren into poverty. (you know, the folks who didn’t get to vote)

    • Wheels55

      If one chooses personal responsibility as a way to decide on fiscal and social issues, I think they are spot on. Take care of yourself and your family. Social values should come from there. Let others responsibility choose their social values. Don’t ask the government to pay for your life style.

      • Sheila Warner

        So, let’s flip what you said. The Federal government declared that marriage is between one man and one woman. So, in states where gay marriage was legal, legally married gays were denied Federal death benefits. They paid for the life choices of the heterosexuals by way of higher taxes. That’s what the Windsor case was all about. It wasn’t at all about the legality of gay marriage itself; otherwise, the Supreme Court would have struck down all bans on gay marriage. Instead, it brought about Equal Protection for legally married gays.

        • Wheels55

          Barely a flip of what I said, but OK.
          You do realize life isn’t all fair, right? You do realize the more government gets into our lives the more unfair life gets, right? That is the answer – keep government out of our relationships.

      • Sheila Warner

        I can’t find your reply here. I got it emailed to me. So, let me just say that I agree with you. Keep gov’t out of our relationships.

    • therealguyfaux

      And sadly, then there are the Pat Buchanans, who are socially conservative but more Populist than I prefer, who most resemble the fiscally-conservative Democrat trope (i.e., a non-socialistic Dem, but still interventionist on principle economically– an economic functional equivalent of a RINO), and that kind of fool/knave is the worst of ALL worlds, as far as I’M concerned. It’s the “wear Jesus on your sleeve at all times” people, who verge on being Pharisees of the first order– self-righteous hypocrites– who need to be brought up short. There are many mountebanks of that sort in the Right at present, who are a snare for the unwary true people of faith. And if they are sincerely in favor of Jesus uber alles towards people of unbelief, I have no use for them.

    • Rose

      Many Democrats were appalled when Dubya and Cheney squandered the Clinton surplus and nearly bankrupted the country with their unfunded, unnecessary wars and their unfunded Medicare Prescription Drug benefit.