Republican Principles and The New Social Conservativism

Many Democratic observers of the Republican race have argued that Rudy Giuliani cannot win because he is a social liberal. While it is far too early to predict the ultimate winner, I would not write Giuliani off. Those who think that the Republicans are a pack of far right social conservative ideologues are, in a sense, giving the Republicans too much credit. They assume that the Republicans hold principles, when ultimately their real concerns are power and paying lower taxes.

We’ve already seen how little conservative principles mean when Republicans are in power. They talk of small government but cause the government to grow far more than it would under Democrats. They speak of getting the government off our backs while allowing the government to become more intrusive in individual’s lives. They claim to support the free market while pursuing a system of corporate welfare which Adam Smith would hardly recognize as capitalism. They claimed they would fight terrorism after 9/11 (ignoring their failure to respond earlier when urged by Democrats) and then ignored the real threats using 9/11 as an excuse to pursue the neoconservative agenda. Republicans claimed to support state’s rights but ignore this if it means overriding the Florida Supreme Court to prevent a recount which might have made Al Gore President, or if it means overriding a state’s decision to allow for the use of medicinal marijuana.

Republicans may appear to have some adherence to principle at times in economic matters but this is primarily in order to justify lowering their taxes. Any thinking Republican realizes that supply side economics is Voodo Economics. They don’t care as long as it means a lower tax bill. They don’t care any more than they care about the long term damage caused by their deficits.

Another example of how little principles mean to Republicans is seen in The American Spectator. Jennifer Rubin dispenses with the objections to Rudy Giuliani by proclaiming him to be a proponent of “new social conservativism.” She acknowledges where Giuliani differs from the traditional definition of social conservative, but argues that those who question his conservativism are asking the wrong questions:

The better, at least the more interesting, question is whether Giuliani can establish a new description of what it means to be “socially conservative.” Perhaps to be socially conservative means something more than just fidelity to pro-life and anti-gay marriage positions. Giuliani has a convincing argument that he is an ethical or cultural conservative who in the end will protect the values that most conservative Republicans hold dear.

Although Rudy Giuliani disagrees on the specific issues he “will protect the values that most conservative Republicans hold dear.” It was hard to read this without laughing, trying to imagine how Giuliani’s personal life shows him as the protector of any form of conservative values. Ruben avoids this issue by staying away from traditional discussion of values as she explains the section quoted above:

What does this mean? It means that he sees the world as a battle between good and evil, and politics as a struggle between decent hard working people and elites who have too little respect for their values — public safety, respect for religion and public virtue.

It may come as a surprise to readers that the Republicans see themselves as the defender of “decent hard working people” unless she means “hard working” in the sense that George Bush is doing “hard work.” The opposing side is liberal elitists. It comes as no surprise that, after being willing to ignore support for Giuliani’s liberal positions she is reduced to calling the other side “elites” without naming specific differences. This is because the differences between conservativism and liberalism don’t help their cause when spelled out. Modern conservatives back greater government intrusion in individual’s personal lives while liberals support individual liberties. Conservatives support unchecked power in the Executive branch while liberals desire to restore the checks and balances developed by the founding fathers. Conservatives oppose science where it doesn’t fit into their views while liberals are willing to adapt their political views to the real world as described by science. Conservatives claim to be the defenders of religion, but it is separation of church and state, which only liberals defend, which is essential to guarantee freedom of worship for all. Conservatives claim to be supporters of capitalism but erode the system while liberals support a free market system which will remain viable in the global market and preserve the middle class.

In recent years support for social conservative policies was the last remaining area where conservatives appeared to hold any principles (even if the wrong principles). If Giuliani is seen as the candidate most likely to win in a general election we will quickly see more agreeing that Giuliani is a “new social conservative.” Winning is more important and for many Republicans attracting the support of the religious right was simply a matter of political expediency. While I would be happy to see the Republicans abandon their support for conservative social issues, it is also harder to respect them as a party which believes in anything beyond increasing their power.

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