If there were as many “fiscal conservatives” as there are people who claim to be, it is hard to see how Republicans would lose as many elections as they do.
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.
It is hard to believe that people who call themselves fiscal conservatives and vote for Democrats would suddenly abandon the Democratic party if only the Republican party embraced same-sex marriage and abortion.
The Left and its political party will always create social issues and tout them in divisive terms that make Republicans and conservatives look “reactionary.” Today it is same-sex marriage, the next day it is the Republican “war on women,” and soon it will be ending the objective male-female designation of Americans (including at birth, because children should have the “right” to determine their gender and not have their parents and their genitalia determine it). Or it will be animal rights, race-based affirmative action, or an environmentalist issue. Concerning the latter, how many “fiscal conservatives” who vote for Democrats are prepared to abandon the party on the “climate change” issue? I suspect very few.
Fiscally conservative Democrats are thus fooling themselves and others when they announce that they would abandon the Democratic party if only the Republicans 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 arena of social conservatism. Among the secular conservatives, libertarians, and secular-fiscal conservatives who vote Democratic, there are many who claim they would vote for Republicans if the party were not home to so many social conservatives 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 goal for libertarians and other fiscal conservatives — outside the framework of Judeo-Christian religions and their God-based values fails to understand both the Founders and human nature.
The entire American experiment in smaller government — and even in secular government — was based on the presumption that Americans individually would be actively religious. Unlike Europeans of the Enlightenment era — and unlike the Left today — the Founders understood that people are not basically good. That is a defining belief of Judaism as well as of Christianity. Therefore, to be good, the great majority of people need moral religion and belief in accountability to a morally judging God. In other words, you will have either 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, such as Mother Earth, to replace the Bible’s God. Fiscal conservatives must come to understand that they need social conservatives, too. They need them philosophically, as I’ve suggested, 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 is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and columnist. His most recent book is Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph. He is the founder of Prager University and may be contacted at dennisprager.com.