13 May 2009

More Republican Soul Searching

Here's another round of it from Jonah Goldberg. This time he makes a predictable argument for good little partisans that the late Jack Kemp makes a better role model for Republicans than the lamented Arlen Specter. As a self-styled conservative Republican Goldberg could not say otherwise. The more interesting part of his column came later.

Challenging the argument that Republicans must move toward the "center" on social issues, Goldberg denies that such a thing exists, at least as some understand the concept. According to the columnist, "this argument assumes the existence of a creature that Kate O'Beirne of the National Review Institute calls the 'Jackalope of American politics': the socially liberal fiscal conservative. These critters are allegedly America's real silent majority, except they are exceedingly rare. Most people who are socially liberal are economically liberal as well."

I know that Libertarians are a small party, but I didn't realize there were so few of them. Most, from what I know of their beliefs, would fit the "jackalope" description pretty exactly, yet Goldberg is right to believe that they're not enough to tip the balance in a national election. There's a hidden presumption in Goldberg's analysis, however, although I can't speak for Kate O'Beirne. He seems to think that economic beliefs follow from "social" beliefs, but in the Libertarian case I'm pretty sure that social beliefs follow from economic ones. Believing that the state should leave them alone to their economic pursuits, they want to be left alone in other fields as well. At least that was the attitude Barry Goldwater adopted in his later years.

Goldberg is mainly concerned with keeping "social conservatives" attached to the Republican party, and wants the GOP to heighten its differences with the Democrats on social issues. There's a risk to this approach. It simply doesn't follow, even if you accept Goldberg's premise that social liberals tend to be economic liberals, that social conservatives are automatically economic conservatives. It's well known that many if not most Democrats are more conservative on social or "moral" questions than party politicians. For a while it looked as if social issues would transform such people from "Reagan Democrats" into permanent Republicans, but the transformation was never complete. Churchgoing African-Americans, for instance, are often very conservative socially, but never embraced the Republicans. In time, many "Reagan Democrats" came back to their original party. For such people, economics trumps social issues. We seem to live at a time when economic issues will be paramount for a while. It seems increasingly unlikely that social issues will determine any national election. Under such conditions, any effort by Republicans to define themselves as the party of social issues might well prove a giant waste of time.Therefore, I wish Goldberg great success in his venture.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Again, the problem being that most Republican politicians refuse to hold themselves to the strict social standards that people like Goldberg seem to endorse. If they did, there would be no accusations of corruption against Republicans. People like Sarah Palin would NOT get a party endorsement. The fact is politicians are wielders of power and therefore subject to corruption. And since most of them are morally weak to begin with, their chances of successfully resisting the temptation are pretty slim.