I have always been primarily policy oriented in my politics. The most boring candidate imaginable has my support so long as he is right on the issues and the most charismatic politician imaginable is worthless to me if he does not support the right things. Much of my writing is dedicated to showing my fellow conservatives where their beliefs and behaviors regarding the principles of limited government are inconsistent or lacking. I believe conservatism must be about more than simply rooting for your favorite team.
But there are other types of conservatism. If the Barry Goldwater-Ronald Reagan legacy embodies what most observers think of as traditional, small-government conservatism, there have always been those on the Right who stress character and morality first. I too am socially conservative, in that I believe human life is sacred, societal health is dependent on the health of the family, and our religious traditions and heritage should be observed, protected, and promoted. I actually believe having a small or limited government would naturally promote all of these things.
When Bill Clinton was the main target of conservatives, the most vicious criticisms of the president were focused on his Oval Office dalliances with Monica Lewinsky. I was different. My problems with Clinton were with the same problems I would later have with George W. Bush and Barack Obama — big government, big spending, porous borders, and unnecessary wars. But for virtually all other conservatives, Clinton’s sex scandals were a rallying point during the late 1990s.
In 1998 Bill Bennett, former drug czar under George H.W. Bush, proclaimed that America was too accepting of Clinton’s shenanigans, writing, “It is said that private character has virtually no impact on governing character; that what matters above all is a healthy economy; that moral authority is defined solely by how well a president deals with public policy matters; that America needs to become more European (read: ‘more sophisticated’) in its attitude toward sex; that lies about sex, even under oath, don’t really matter; that we shouldn’t be judgmental. If these arguments take root in American soil, if they become the coin of the public realm, we will have validated them, and we will come to rue the day we did.”
As noted, I’ve made a small career out of pointing out the deficiencies of so-called conservative Republicans. This is often a thankless task. I’ve learned that if voters like a candidate’s personality or speaking ability — or really dislike the alternative candidate — they’re generally willing to forgive just about anything the candidate does. For example, in 2009 and 2010 the Tea Party’s prime issues were opposing TARP and Obamacare. Now, most polling shows the Tea Party’s support is split primarily between two Republican presidential candidates who supported TARP and a government healthcare plan that even Obama considers to be the blueprint for his plan. In their zeal to defeat Obama, many Republicans don’t seem to mind electing a GOP version of him. Personality trumps policy; partisanship trumps principle. Unfortunately, this is nothing new.
But what is new is what social conservatives are now willing to accept in their quest to defeat Obama. When a thrice-married, admitted adulterer wins the South Carolina Republican primary, this is certainly a new day for social conservatives. When his second wife accuses him of asking for an open marriage — and the candidate is able to spin this allegation to his advantage — the Right has entered uncharted territory. Social conservatives were always the first to declare Clinton the “philanderer-in-chief,” but now many of them eagerly want to make the chief a known philanderer.
Discarding limited-government principles in order to win elections is a sad but well-established tradition for many Republicans, but when social conservatives dismiss the notion that quality leadership begins with personal character, that is something new entirely.
When it comes to social conservatives, we could argue that the abandonment of their principles for partisanship began with televangelist Pat Robertson’s endorsement of pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage Rudy Giuliani in 2008 for the Republican nomination. At that time, I remember many social conservatives being upset with Robertson’s choice, but I’m not hearing the same kind of concerns this year. It’s bad enough how many of their beliefs limited-government conservatives will sacrifice to win elections, but now social conservatives have joined them.
Jack Hunter assisted Sen. Jim DeMint with his latest book, Now or Never: Saving America From Economic Collapse. He is also the official campaign blogger for GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, and he co-wrote Rand Paul’s The Tea Party Goes to Washington. You can hear Southern Avenger commentaries on The Morning Buzz with Richard Todd on 1250 WTMA.