A Historical Perspective Of Conservative "Right Wing"ness

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Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit, in response to Arlen Specter’s defection from the Republican party due to it’s move further to the right, is wondering if Republicans really are more right wing than they were thirty years ago under Reagan’s tutelage. He states:

…back during the Reagan era, I remember hearing that the Republicans were . . . a bunch of social conservatives. And back then they were pushing the abortion-banning Human Life Amendment — hard — along with a statutory end-run (the Human Life Bill) that simply declared life began at conception. Also school prayer and all sorts of stuff. I’m not actually hearing much along these lines from today’s Republicans…

and posts a few quotes from other blogs:

You are right about this issue. The Republican Party is less socially conservative now than in the past. You don’t hear a lot of support for anti-sodomy laws nowadays, for example, or opposition to civil unions.

The reason for the change in perception is that with fiscal conservatism abandoned, the only distinguishing characteristic of the Republican Party is now social conservatism.

Glenn adds:

So, tepid as that is, it dominates. Also, there has to be some reason to tell college students that Republicans are uncool. . . .

Today’s version of the Republican Party is teppid on social issues compared to the Reaagan era. That is the assertion by some in the bloggisphere. I believe both Glenn and my good friends at Gay Patriot are wrong.

First, lets tackle the ever dominant sticky issue of abortion. Here is how Douglass Johnson, the Legislative Director of the National Right to Life Committee, described the Human Life Bill, which I assume he helped author

A Feb. 8 Times editorial refers to ”a bill to define abortion as murder and deny Federal courts and the Supreme Court the power to say the contrary.” I am intrigued, for I know of no such bill.

I am, of course, familiar with the Helms-Hyde Human Life Bill (S. 158), which states, ”The Congress finds that the life of each human being begins at conception.” But this declaration of fact hardly makes abortion murder. As the report of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Separation of Powers states, ”S. 158 will not make abortion murder because it does not even make abortion a crime.”

Fast forward to Tuesday. A fairly big news item of the day was the confirmation of Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Republicans vehemently opposed her nomination since February. Why? Because of her stance on abortion. Republican Senator Tom Coburn describes her position on this issue as:

“a drastic and fatal character flaw,” and added, “I believe that’s a disqualifier.”
“[It’s] another signpost on our way toward oblivion as a nation.”

A drastic and fatal character flaw? That’s a little over the top, but typical from today’s social conservative.

This anti-abortion foe even goes out of her way to blast Mrs. Sebelius for signing a pro-life bill, because she didn’t really mean it! Reagan would have just thanked her and went along with his day.

Keep in mind too, that her vote was kinda “unblocked” because of the possible outbreak of the swine flu pandemic. Some Republicans don’t want to be seen as impeding her appointment while there’s a plague on. Wouldn’t look good in the public’s eyes.

Sebelius is not the only cabinet pick that is not suitable because of her stance on abortion. Try Dawn E. Johnsen’s nomination to the Office of Legal Counsel.

The word “abortion” is simply a euphemism for the word “murder.” Killing a fetus is an extreme evil.

Someone please show me where a Republican State Assembly tried to ban all abortions during the Reagan years. I’m not against them trying to ban it. It’s their state, they can fight the Supreme Court if they want. But this would never have been conceivable within the ranks of the Republican party thirty years ago (sorry for the pun).

Enough abortion stuff. What about school prayer? The teaching of Intelligent Design has pretty much replaced school prayer as an issue.

How about fiscal policy.

Ask yourself this – what is Reagan’s main legacy? His radical change of direction in regard to government fiscal policy. He absolutely was not reelected in 84 due to his views on social issues. To paraphrase James Carville “It’s the economy stupid”! Who was possibly the last prominent leader of the fiscal side of the Republican party in the last two decades? Who carried that torch for the Reaganites. If anyone can be named, it was Newt Gingrich. He was the driving force behind the budget standoff between Congress and Clinton. And what did he get for his efforts? He was forced out of the Speakership, and decided to leave the congress altogether after the mutiny staged by backbenchers Steve Largent, Lindsey Graham, Mark Souder, as well as Dick Armey John Boehner, Bill Paxon, and Majority Whip Tom Delay. Two things they all have in common – all are very strong social conservatives, and all, especially Delay, are definitely NOT fiscal conservatives. Ever since then the party has promoted and followed a social conservative agenda, at the expense of fiscal responsibility.

After the coup, there were no more prominent fiscal Republicans that could challenge the social side of the party. The Clinton / Lewinski scandal only strengthened their grip on the party. Then we get to the election of G.W. Bush. His main challenger John McCaine, was a much stronger fiscal hawk than Bush, yet he lost any chance to get the nomination after the religious right questioned whether McCain was Christian enough. After his election, Bush did pass the tax cuts, but most of his agenda time and time again favored social conservatism over fiscal conservatism. What ever happened to the promise to end base line budgeting????

Then we get 9/11. After that, any notion of fiscal conservatives gaining any foothold in the party was lost. The Republicans, myself included, went right along when Cheney said that deficits don’t matter.

What were the major Republican accomplishments or attempts there of, after Newt was kicked to the side of the road?

* Block federal aid to foreign aid groups, not due to budgetary concerns, but based on the group”s stance on abortion views.

* Giving money to Faith -Based Community groups. Of course when Obama does the same for non-faith -based community groups, well, that’s outrageous!!!!!

* Partial Birth Abortion Act.

* Federal Marriage Amendment.

* Fought against states where voters approved such things as death with dignity (Oregon) and medical marijuana (California). So much for states rights.

* Banned use of Fed money for embryonic stem cell research, again, not based on monetary concerns, but on religious principles.

* Tried to pass flag burning constitutional amendment… several times.

* And my personal favorite – the Tom Delay led Veggi Girl fiasco. Congress couldn’t find the time to balance a budget, but could get their asses out of bed in the middle of the night to try and interfere with the personal family drama revolving around the brain dead Terri Schiavo. And why was that??? Because of the damned dominance of the right to lifers in congress, who used the Schiavo case as a proxy to fight against abortion.

OK. Now lets go back in time. Here is an endorsement of Bob Dole’s 1996 candidacy by Grover Norquist. Notice not ONE of the items listed above are mentioned. In contrast, last year John McCain had to me overtures to social conservative lighthouse stalwarts such as evangelicals James Dobson and John Hagee in order to try to get their seal of approval. Since the ouster of Gingrich, the last fiscal conservative, does anyone recall any candidate having to grovel at the feet of Larry Kudlow or Art Laffer in order to prove their fiscal boifides andappease the base?

As I’ve said before, this is a classic opportunity cost issue. The more energy the conservatives placed on social concerns, the less resources of both money and effort would be spent on financial matters. Face the facts, the social conservatives cannot and will not play second fiddle to fiscal conservatives. Why do you think guys like Steve Forbes or Bill Simon couldn’t get elected Republican dog catcher. Why do you think George Bush won two presidential races, while the more fiscally proven McCain never swayed the base of the party. Why do you think the Republicans did all they could to brush Ron Paul, probably the best fiscal conservative they had in 2008, off to the side. Why do you think Mitt Romney, the other true fiscal sound candidate in 2008, didn’t get support from the base, until it was obvious that McCain (the less social conservative) was likely to win? I’ll give you a hint – many Christians don’t consider Mormons to be Christians. For the base of the party, religious concerns and the culture wars trump all other aspect of life and governance, including fiscal policy. Everything else takes a back seat.

The reason the Republicans lost their way fiscally was NOT because the moderates were in control for the last twelve years, it lost all credibility because the social conservatives have the party.

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