Monday, August 05, 2013

Republicans have been very, very good to social conservatives

By Frank Moraes 

I have a bone to pick with Paul Krugman. His column today is quite good, "Republicans Against Reality." The first half of the article is about Republican dysfunction. He highlights last week's transportation bill fiasco. It's an old story. Talk to any conservative (and sadly many liberals as well) and they will tell you that there is loads of wasteful spending in the government. But when you ask them what ought to be cut, the first thing they say is: foreign aid. There are two problems with this. First, foreign aid really does help us out globally by pushing back against all the bad stuff we do. (And note: Israel gets by far the most foreign aid of any country.) Second, foreign aid only makes up about 1% of the federal budget.

So the problem the House Republicans are having is that they've gone along with Paul Ryan's new mythical budget. But when it comes to actual policies, the House members don't like it because it requires cutting programs that their constituencies like and depend upon. So vauge notions of cutting "waste": gooood! Concrete ideas of cutting actual programs: baaad!

The second half of Krugman's article is about how the Republican leadership is reaping what it sowed. He writes:

For a long time the Republican establishment got its way by playing a con game with the party's base. Voters would be mobilized as soldiers in an ideological crusade, fired up by warnings that liberals were going to turn the country over to gay married terrorists, not to mention taking your hard-earned dollars and giving them to Those People. Then, once the election was over, the establishment would get on with its real priorities -- deregulation and lower taxes on the wealthy.

That is mostly true, but I take exception to the claim that the Republican Party has abandoned the social conservative base. Just in terms of policy, they got things like the Defense of Marriage Act and Terri Schiavo. But more important, they've gotten really conservative judges throughout the federal court system. I don't have any doubt that if Roe v. Wade came up for a vote in the Supreme Court that it would be overturned. So social conservatives have gotten what they want.


Now it is also true that the socially conservative judges happen also to be economically conservative. I've always found this strange; how does the Bible relate to thinking that businesses have way more rights than individuals? But that is the state of modern conservatism. Also, it is important to remember that the social conservative base of the Republican Party is itself fairly wealthy. This was discussed in detail in Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State. In general, poor people can't spend all their time picketing abortion clinics.

This may seem like a minor point, but I think it is important to understand our adversaries. The Republicans are not running a bait and switch on the social conservatives. What's more, the social conservatives are generally the economic conservatives. The Republicans are doing right by them. The problem is that these people are a distinct minority. When Republicans win it is because few people vote. I think Mitt Romney understood the issue well:

There are roughly a third of the people who will vote for the Republicans no matter what... Who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims... These are people who get huge tax breaks... And so our job is not to worry about those people. We'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for the facts. 

Afterword 

Just to be clear: yes, I do believe what I wrote in the quote. The rich are hugely more dependent upon the government than the poor, even though that dependence doesn't so much come in the form of direct cash payments. Conservatives as a group think of themselves as victims. Just watch Fox News; it is amazing the amount of whining you hear. What do you think the whole "War on Christmas" is about? And finally, they don't take personal responsibility. They want everyone to think they do and doubtless they've convinced themselves. But we are all dependent upon each other and to deny that is not not take personal responsibility. Nor is it taking personal responsibility to only get news from sources that flatter your prejudices. And what are we to make of people who want to constrain the consensual behavior of others?

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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