Friday, January 04, 2008
As I've already explained, we've reached a moment in American politics where both the left and right are equally calling for bigger government and more personal and economic intrusion into people's lives. The constituency for a small government, market-liberal philosophy based on individual liberty continues to shrink, as it has throughout Bush's presidency, ripping apart the Reagan coalition and throwing the GOP's November chances into complete disarray.
Thursday night's results in Iowa demonstrated this: Mike Huckabee, AKA John Edwards with a bible, won in a landslide victory over the "Reagan" candidate Mitt Romney. Polls show that only something like 10-20% of voters are actually concerned that the federal government is too big. The rest are simply looking for handouts, funny one-liners, and bible quotes.
Again, to be clear, I don't mean to denigrate the social conservatives that have played a crucial role in the GOP coalition of the last 30 years. Evangelicals have helped spread a message that faith in God, not government, is the answer, and this has been key in pushing the message that our rights come not from Washington, but instead from a higher power. Preservation of the family and traditional values is key to maintaining an electorate that guards itself from an ever-expanding welfare state: single parents and unmarried couples are overwhelmingly more likely than any part of the electorate to vote for big government. The notion that families, churches, and civic organizations are better at solving society's ills than politicians and bureaucrats in D.C. has also been central to the Republican message.
But things are starting to change: we now see evangelicals willing to elect leaders who will embrace big government instead of attacking it. In the past, social conservatives, like libertarians, advocated a "leave us alone" philosophy: stop telling us we can't pray in school, stop teaching my second-grader about lesbian sex, stop funding programs that allow my 14-year old daughter to terminate an unborn life without my permission, etc. Today, by contrast, these same folks support federal amendments to the constitution banning certain things, new regulations preventing CEO's from making "too much," wealth redistribution to "preserve the middle class," bans on smoking, trans fats, and other "dangerous" activities. This is very frightening because it means evangelicals are now just as bad collectivists as our liberals opponents.
It it vital for Republicans to remember that the hugely successful Reagan coalition of the 1980's was built on three pillars: a strong and free economy (economic conservatives), a strong military (foreign policy conservatives), and strong families (social conservatives). The current debacle is tearing apart this coalition: Huckabee clings to the social part but ridicules the economic and military aspects. Giuliani stands for a strong military and a free economy but ignores the culture of life issues. McCain is a foreign policy hawk and a social conservative but has never read an economics book and thinks taxes are too low. The GOP simply cannot be successful unless all three legs of the stool are firmly attached and embraced, something that Romney has done over the last 2 years but not convincingly enough. Something that Thompson has done his whole life but it fails to make any noise because he never wanted the job in the first place.
In the meantime, it should be interesting to see how New Hampshire plays out. The folks there seem to have a little more sense than Iowans do.