Social Conservatism and Economic Conservatism are “joined at the hip” (Part 1)

In recent months it has been my pleasure to participate in a number of meetings with possible and announced candidates for public office. It’s heartening to see good people stepping up to run for an office for the first time. As part of the vetting process, one of the questions for the interviewee is a simple one:

“What do you see as the hottest issue today from your conversations with people on the street?”

The most common answers are obviously the potential of a government take over of the health care industry, the excessive growth of government and the increase in the deficit and debt.

The number one issue for me is the confusion over the fantasy separation between economic and social policy. It’s now a cliché: “You can’t lead with the social issues” on the campaign trail, unless, of course, you’re in front of a pro-life group. Then, by all means, talk about your commitment to protecting the unborn. Otherwise, people don’t care or want to hear about the social issues.

My argument isn’t that Republican candidates are supposed to be on some kind of evangelistic tour preaching fire, brimstone and Old Testament theology. What I am saying is that they had better stop pretending there is some kind of wall between culture and money, human behavior and economics.

The hottest issues today are health care, the economy, government spending and debt, no question. Why are they the hottest issues? Because people haven’t been taught personal responsibility. What’s that? Personal – what? Responsibility – huh?

Yesterday I spoke with a lady from Olney Illinois who summed it up in a sentence: If you don’t have a culture, you don’t have anything.

Yes – our candidates need to address the policy solutions to our country’s economic and fiscal problems. But all of those solutions hinge on Americans improving their behavior: not spending money they don’t have – not buying a house they can’t afford – the elimination of government regulations that set up Fannie Mae like perverse incentives – not setting up government programs that are not affordable nor sustainable.

So any discussion of the economy that is honest will have to address the behavior side of the equation. What kind of people are required to successfully operate a free market economy? People incapable of providing for themselves or needing government bailouts of whatever type?

One retort is that it’s possible for people to behave as upstanding individuals when it comes to their business and economic life, yet stray from the path when it comes to what’s considered traditional moral values in their personal and private life.

A lot of things are possible, but typically life isn’t so neat and clean. Civilization is behavior, and it’s not difficult to see that people aren’t exactly born to be mild and good free market players.

Republicans haven’t led or tried to win on the social issues. Exit polling did show, however, that “values voters” were the reason George W. Bush won a second term in the White House. And polls since have shown that the 2006 loss of Congress and the 2008 loss of the White House was due in part to too many of those same values voters staying home on election day.

It feels like I’m picking on a child by having to state the obvious here: Republicans in no way, shape, or form have successfully campaigned on or governed on good fiscal management. Not at the state level and not at the federal level.

As long as the vast majority of our GOP candidates need to go to school to learn how to discuss economic policy, they might as well study up on the other half of the equation – the all important social issues like marriage, abortion, and the mentally disoriented push for so-called “gay rights.”

Those whose confusion makes them uneasy about discussing the social issues are no different than those who are unable to coherently discuss the economic issues. If you’re going to help the Republican cause, you need to be able and ready to do both.

Up next: Part 2.

©2009 John Francis Biver