The Corner

Coalition of The Whining

Social conservatives are always complaining that they’re not in the driver’s seat of the Republican party. So are economic conservatives. They’re both right. Neither group alone is large enough to form an electoral majority, and thus have to participate in a coalition that gives them some of what they want but leaves them dissatisfied on other issues. (They don’t even form an electoral majority when they’re put together, incidentally.)

Allan Carlson, whose work I generally have enormous respect for, does the social-conservatives-are-always-in-the-back-of-the-bus routine in this week’s Weekly Standard.

IN THE INTERNAL POLITICS OF the Republican coalition, some members are consistently more equal than others. In particular, where the interests of the proverbial “Sam’s Club Republicans” collide with the interests of the great banks, the Sam’s Club set might as well pile into the family car and go home. . . . [W]hen push comes to shove, social conservatives remain second class citizens under the Republican tent.

Carlson is exercised by the passage–with large bipartisan majorities, as he does not point out–of bankruptcy reform last year. It’s a frivolous complaint. Social conservatives didn’t ask Republicans to block the bill. (If Carlson, or anyone else, wrote anything in the Standard opposing it on social-conservative grounds before it passed, I missed it.) They asked for Republicans to drop the provision that would have penalized pro-life groups, and they won. And it would have been foolish for social-conservative groups to ask Congress to block the bill, because they wouldn’t have been able to make a strong case against it. See here for a defense of the bill, which hardly deserves to be called “a new form of feudalism,” or “indentured servitude,” as Carlson has it.

What about Carlson’s other complaints against the Republicans? He wishes they would do more “to curb the egalitarian frenzy and the gender-role engineering set off by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and enshrined at the Pentagon.” He is concerned about child-support collection: “There is mounting evidence that the system now encourages marital breakup and exacerbates fatherlessness by creating a winner-take-all game, where the losing parent–commonly a father wanting to save the marriage–is unfairly penalized by the loss of his children and by a federally enforced child support obligation.” Maybe Republicans should take up each of these causes. But it’s not economic conservatives, or “big business,” or “the great banks,” or “K Street Republicans,” the interchangeable villains of Carlson’s piece, that are stopping them.

Carlson is on firmer ground when he faults Republicans for not taking up legislation to extend the tax break for commercial day care to help stay-at-home mothers. That’s a great idea, but by itself–Carlson’s other examples being off point–it doesn’t add up to the general indictment he issues.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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