“I’m fiscally conservative, but socially liberal”

March 5, 2014

Dennis Prager provides a thoughtful response to the popular “either/or” fallacy about fiscal vs. social conservatism.

One frequently hears this political self-identification: “I’m socially liberal, but fiscally conservative.” Or, “If the Republicans weren’t conservative on so many social issues, I would vote Republican.” Or, “It’s too bad the Christian Right dominates the Republican Party. I would vote for the Republicans on fiscal issues, but I can’t stand the religious right.”

The same sentiment holds among many inside the Republican Party. Most secular conservatives and the libertarian wing of the party agree: Let’s jettison all this social stuff — most prominently opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion, and this unnecessary commitment to religion — and just stand for small government and personal liberty.

To many people these positions sound reasonable, even persuasive. They shouldn’t.

Like Prager, I’m firmly in the “both/and” conservative camp. I usually describe myself as a conservative, no hyphenated qualifier needed. If pressed for clarification, I’ll explain that I am a Constitutional conservative. Which to me is a polite way of saying I am not “‘fiscally conservative’ but socially liberal,” i.e., libertarian.

I used to be libertarian, and as the prelude to an insult goes, some of my best friends are libertarians.

As a libertarian, I understood that my ideas traced back to a tradition known as classical liberalism, which represented what I considered the best of Enlightenment Age thought. It irritated me that the term “liberal” was hijacked by early 20th century Marxists after the destructive fruits of their poisonous ideology discredited the previous labels they deployed to hide their stripes: “socialist,” “Fabian socialist,” and “progressive.” Plus ca change, after destroying the “Liberal” brand, they recycled the “progressive” label, which thanks to Obama has finally passed its sell-by date. Perhaps Leftists will start calling themselves as “conservatives” going forward. That would not be entirely fraudulent. After all, since 2008, “progressives” have done more to enhance the conservative brand than conservatives have.

I still agree with libertarians on economic and monetary policy. Mises and Hayek were not just right, but prophetically and spectacularly so. Where I part company with my “fiscal conservative’ but social liberal” friends is on first principles, specifically: On liberty.

As a libertarian, I read hundreds of books and articles espousing libertarian views on myriad social and political issues. Curiously, even though our worldview was centered on maximizing freedom, I don’t remember reading any books or articles that discussed the meaning of freedom. My libertarian friends and I simply assumed the meaning of  freedom was self-evident. Had someone asked me then what I meant by freedom, my bafflement would have made it clear that the worldview I espoused was not as sound as I believed.

I often ask young libertarians  what they mean by freedom. Typically, they give one of two responses: 1) a variation of “freedom means allowing people to do what they want.” Sometimes they’ll include John Stuart Mills’ qualifier: … as long as you do not harm anyone else… or interfere with another’s lawful exercise of freedom. Or 2) a confused expression reminiscent of an actor who has forgotten his lines, in stark contrast to their breezy answers on specific issues.

The concept of freedom as the ability to do what I want more closely resembles a Nike slogan than a definition of freedom. Freedom to do as we please is self-refuting. We often desire things that are downright destructive to ourselves and others, such as addictions that enslave us or selfish acts that rob us and others of our inherent dignity as human beings. Our modern notion of freedom to do as we please would been astonished great thinkers in the classical tradition like Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. They understood that authentic freedom means the ability to do as we ought, not as we please. The former presupposes an understanding of human nature that we no longer understand or reject in our desire for unlimited freedom.

John Milton understood the difference between authentic freedom and its modern counterfeit:

But this is got by casting pearls to hogs,
That bawl for freedom in their senseless mood,
And still revolt when Truth would set them free.
License they mean when they cry Liberty;
For who loves that must first be wise and good.

Consider an aspiring pianist. A classically-trained pianist typically spends many years practicing scales and exercises and learning to sight-read music. Years of hard work and practice enable her to play the masterworks of the great composers. Paradoxically, the time and effort needed to master the instrument repays the student’s investment with the freedom to perform and the potential to create music of their own. By contrast, a small child pounding on a toy piano who refuses to take music lessons can create noise with the instrument, but no music. Which one is more free?

Mills’ qualifying principle doesn’t solve the problem. Unfortunately, differences of opinion arise regarding when my freedom causes harm or encroaches upon another’s freedom. Unless you live alone on an otherwise deserted island, doing as you please will invariably interfere with other persons doing what they want. And unless what you want to do conforms to what you ought to do (or you live on a deserted island), invariably your selfish acts will hurt others in some fashion.

Anyone who thinks that you can have smaller government — the central issue for libertarians and other fiscal conservatives — without Judeo-Christian religions and their God-based values neither understands the Founders nor human nature very well.

The entire American experiment in smaller government — and even in secular government — was based on Americans individually being actively religious. The Founders — unlike the European men of the Enlightenment then and the left today — understood that people are not basically good. That is a defining belief of Judaism as well as of Christianity. Therefore the great majority of people need moral religion and belief in accountability to a morally judging God to be good. In other words, you will either have the big God of Judaism and Christianity or the big state of the left.

Social conservatives know that they need fiscal conservatives. They know that the bigger the state, the smaller the God. They know that proponents of the ever-larger state want their own gods — like Mother Earth — to replace the Bible’s God. Fiscal conservatives need to understand that they need social conservatives. They need them philosophically, for reasons explained above. And they need them politically. There will never be enough Americans who are fiscally but not socially conservative to win a national election. Sorry.

I agree with this except for the last paragraph. I don’t think Prager really means it when he says conservatives “know that the bigger the state, the smaller the God.” I’m sure he doesn’t believe God is diminished by even the severest totalitarian dictatorships. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church,” etc. I’m sure we agree that the bigger the state, the greater the threat to freedom of religion. To paraphrase Chesterton, see 20th Century, History of.

He is correct that there aren’t enough Americans who are fiscally but not socially conservative to win elections. However, Prager goes on to suggest that social conservatives understand they need fiscal conservatives, whereas fiscal conservatives do not understand they need social conservatives. My fiscally but not socially conservative friends would claim the opposite, and they don’t have to look too far back for proof. In 2012, by most estimates, approximately 3 million conservatives stayed home rather than vote for Mitt Romney, either because of his Mormon faith or because he “wasn’t conservative enough.” Either way, this was insane. Unfortunately, I suspect that if a more conservative Republican had won the nomination, a similar percentage of fiscal conservative social liberal moderates likely would have stayed home too.

There’s a reason we’re called the Stupid Party. We keep finding ways to let the Evil Party win.


No Exit

March 3, 2014

What happens if you sign up for Obamacare and then decide to switch to another policy?

Obamacare: You Can Get In, But Can You Get Out?

“Andrew Robinson was looking forward to getting health insurance through the Affordable Care Act,” explained reporter Lori Brown. “He has a small publishing business and works part time, so he hasn’t had coverage. In early January, he signed up for a plan that cost nearly $300 a month. About a half hour later, he and his wife realized they could barely afford that. They quickly found a less expensive plan through Humana — for $116 a month.”

The only surprise here is that an affordable plan is still available after Obamacare. The endless bureaucratic red tape Robinson goes through trying to switch plans is a feature of the system.

More than six weeks later, after spending 50 to 60 hours on the phone, his policy is still not canceled. And he is still waiting for the payment Florida Blue withdrew from his account to be refunded. …

According to Florida Blue, the company can’t cancel Robinson’s insurance until it receives notification from the Federal insurance marketplace that he has, in fact, obtained other insurance to take its place.

And that brings up another enforcement feature of Obamacare that, so far, has been overshadowed by the hoopla over the Internal Revenue Service’s expanded powers: The Federal health care marketplace itself can act as an Obamacare enforcer, tethering people who voluntarily approached the exchange for coverage to their initial decision for a very long time — no matter whether they later wish to exercise their own free will to drop coverage outright, or simply find a better deal somewhere else.

Welcome to the Hotel California.

Pygmies vs. Prophets

December 31, 2012

“Now, people when I say that people look at me and say, ‘What are you talking about, Joe? You’re telling me we have to go spend money to keep from going bankrupt?’ The answer is yes, that’s what I’m telling you.”
—Joe Biden

“There is no practice more dangerous than of borrowing money; for when money can be had in this way, repayment is seldom thought of in time, the interest becomes a loss, exertions to raise it by dent of industry cease, it comes easy and is spent freely and many things are indulged in that would never be thought of if to be purchased by the sweat of the brow.”
—George Washington

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“In my opinion, it’s not that the decision to have a child or have an abortion is ever not complicated; rather, it is as morally complex (and often conflicted) a decision as any. It’s never simple.”
—John Irving, My Movie Business: A Memoir, Knopf, 1999

“Moral issues are always terribly complex—for someone without principles.”
—G. K. Chesterton

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“One of the great clichés of the last few months was that September 11 changed everything. I never believed that. … I predict in the years ahead Enron, not September 11, will come to be seen as the greater turning point in U.S. society.”
—Paul Krugman, Op-Ed column, January 29, 2002

“An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head.”
—Eric Hoffer

USSA 2015

November 9, 2012
USSA 2015

USSA 2015

H/t: Imaumbn™ on Twitter

Why I Support NJ Gov. Chris Christie

May 14, 2010

Our country desperately needs someone like this great American patriot in the White House.

Keep the Change. 
Let’s take back America . . . one branch at a time:
The White House—2012

A Miracle: Thirty Years Later

February 23, 2010

“Do you believe in miracles?”

Thirty years later, I still get goosebumps watching the umpteenth replay of the 1980 semi-final Olympic hockey game between the US and the Soviet Union. (Yes, the US team actually had to play another, defeating Finland 4-1 for the gold medal.) Each time, I experience the tension of those frantic final seconds, waiting for Al Michaels’ triumphant question that sounded more like a long-awaited answer to his shouted question.

Yes Al, I believe in miracles.

Einstein once wrote, “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” For most of us who are neither skeptics nor mystics, I believe this event qualifies as a miracle. Not  because none of the experts predicted or even imagined that an amateur group of plucky but unpolished hockey players could somehow defeat an “invincible” Soviet juggernaut that had humiliated NHL All Star teams. Not because no one except the coach and his players believed they could win. But because this most improbable of victories came during a time when most people had stopped believing in miracles.

No one believed in miracles except Herb Brooks and his team. And then, we all did.

The miracle on ice meant so much to so many, but for coach Herb Brooks, it meant much more. It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that it was the instrument of his redemption.

Twenty years earlier, the 23-year-old Brooks was the last player cut from the 1960 USA Olympic squad, the last American hockey team to win the gold medal. Herb Brooks watched his teammates win the gold medal without him, he watched the game on a black-and-white television, sitting at home with his dad. One can only imagine his thoughts during such a bittersweet moment, happiness for his teammates mixed with bitter disappointment at coming so close.

Afterwards when his teammates stood to receive their gold medals, Herb’s dad turned to him and said: “Well, I guess that goes to show they cut the right guy.”

I can only imagine how much those words must have hurt. I can only imagine what terrible personal demons must have haunted Brooks for so long. But after twenty years in the wilderness, when the American team he led stood up to receive their gold medals, the crowd shouting “U.S.A. U.S.A.”, Brooks’ inner demons were expelled, and not only his sorrows, but those of a nation were healed.

When Jesus was crucified, only his mother and one of His disciples stayed with him until the bitter end. The rest all scattered and fled, demoralized and defeated, ashamed and afraid. No one could have anticipated or predicted anything like what happened when the tomb was found empty. But it’s because of this miracle, the most unbelievable miracle of all, that we as Christians have always known the answer to Al Michael’s question: Do you believe in miracles?

We believe in miracles because He is risen.

He is risen indeed, Hallelujah!

Never Forget

September 11, 2009