Ever since the 1980s (the era of Reagan), the Republican Party has consisted of two groups. One, the economic conservatives; two, the religious conservatives. The latter favor limited government in economics, with activist government in religious matters (abortion, gay relationships, prayer in schools, tax money to fund “faith-based” programs, etc.)
With the domination of Washington DC by Obama and the Democratic Party, you’d think Republicans would begin to unite. However, just the opposite seems to be happening. At least if religiously conservative spokesman Rick Santorum (who ran for President in 2012 and likely will again, in 2016) is any indication.
“Look, I think there’s a lot of common ground between libertarians [i.e. economic conservatives] and conservatives,” Santorum said in a recent Fox Business interview, “but I also think there’s a lot of common ground between libertarians and liberals.”
On limited government, Santorum added, “I think the libertarians are going in the right direction, except they go a little too far in that direction — and, you know conservatism is not about no government.” [Fox Business Network interview, 5/15/14]
It’s this last phrase you ought to note: “Not about no government.”
It’s always worrisome when a politician talks vaguely about what government may or may not do. You had better believe such a politician intends to fill that void with some kind of unjustified power. He knows it, which is why he’s vague in the first place.
Santorum claims “it’s OK to have strong opinions, so long as you don’t go too far with them.” How far is too far? What’s the objective stopping point? No definition is given. You’re simply to wait until he’s in office, and then you’ll know.
Consider this the religious right’s equivalent of, “You’ll have to pass the law to find out what’s in it.”
You might think that Santorum means he wants limited government in economics, with expansive government in cultural or moral issues. While he undoubtedly wants the latter (and made that clear in 2012), he doesn’t necessarily want “Reaganomics” or anything close to it.
Consider this excerpt from Santorum’s book “Blue Collar Conservatives.” Santorum writes,
Since Ronald Reagan came to Washington and launched the supply-side revolution, Republican economic policy could be expressed in one word—growth. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” as we like to say, quoting that earlier tax cutter John F. Kennedy. The theory is that by helping those at the top—the people who start businesses and create jobs— we help those at the bottom. (p. 51)
The tide is rising, but many boats have holes of various sizes—for example, a lack of skills or experience, an unstable family, or no high school degree. They are sinking or are stuck on a sand bar. Lower-wage workers see the rich getting richer, but they feel poorer. Democrats are fond of saying that all the Republican talk about a “rising tide” really amounts to “trickle-down economics.” That accusation may be shortsighted and not entirely fair, but we have to admit that for the people at the bottom, that’s what it feels like these days—just a trickle. (p. 53)
How is this any different from what Obama or any other Democrat would say?
The basic question about people “stagnating at the bottom” is this: Are they stagnating because of their own failures, or because of the government? If the government is to blame, then what is the government doing to make it so difficult?
How does the economy grow, Mr. Santorum? Does it grow by government regulations, redistribution, taxation and subsidies, combined with manipulation of the currency, as Obama assumes? Or does it grow by the protection of private property by government and the operation of a totally free market system? Are we stagnating because we have too much capitalism, or too little?
The conservative answers to these questions have always been pretty clear. Following through in action has been another story, but at least the theory was always clear.
If you think about it, Santorum’s “pro-family” attitude is entirely consistent with his turning against Reagan’s brand of “get the government off the backs of the people” kind of conservatism.
To be “pro-family” and “pro-religion” is to be anti-individual, at least when these attitudes are applied to politics and society. Santorum wants the individual to give up his own self for the sake of these blue collar/socially conservative ideals. In this respect, he’s no different from Obama. While Obama and Santorum have their differing preferences with regard to whom they wish to sacrifice the individual to, they’re alike in one key respect: The individual plays second fiddle (at best) to the group, and the group’s will shall be upheld by the force of government.
So much for “libertarian,” conservative or anything like that. Were it not for his hostility to gays and abortion, Rick Santorum would be perfectly at home in the Democratic Party. This is what passes as an alternative to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton
It doesn’t seem too likely that Santorum will win the Republican nomination for President, and even less likely he’ll win the Presidency. But where he’s trying to take the Republican Party shows us something about the kind of choice we’ll be facing in elections yet to come.
Freedom for all can only happen with freedom for all individuals. Beware of anyone on the “left” or “right” claiming otherwise.
Michael J Hurd
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