Paul Jacob

Are “Tea Party” Republicans gearing up to fail just like the Democrats did?

Republicans say they want less government, but the best they have ever done is to occasionally slow down the rate of government growth.

Already Tea Party Republicans are conspiring to put “off the table” the biggest parts of the budget: Entitlement and Pentagon spending. Nice start: Hobble yourself from the get-go.

But the easiest way to mimic Democratic failure is to fail in a manner parallel to the Democrats under Obama. Not “same as,” but mirror image.

Democrats betrayed the American people by offering change and providing more and more and more of the same. They carried on and upped the ante on bailouts and pushed a new unpaid-for entitlement against the wishes of huge swaths of the American people.

That is, Democrats pushed a left agenda. What came naturally to them.

Republicans will be tempted to push a right agenda, of course. What comes naturally to them. And it, too, will be unpopular with voters.

And by “right agenda” I don’t mean fiscal restraint and limited government. (Experience tells us that doesn’t even map left-right.) I mean social conservative legislation.

And here we have a problem.

Jim DeMint likes to call himself “Senator Tea Party.” And he’s done some great work. I have often commented (see ThisIsCommonSense.com) on his heroic work against earmarks. But, when challenged with the idea that, until the fiscal mess is straightened out, a truce should be called on social issues, DeMint responded in a disturbing manner: “You can’t be a fiscal conservative without being a social conservative.”

On its face, this just isn’t true. The make-up of the Republican coalition includes a lot of folks who are “economic libertarians.” These have long supported — nay, demanded — fiscal balance and free markets and limited governments while self-declared social conservatives have wandered off-point, reaching to Big Government to enforce their ideas. What could Jim DeMint be thinking?

“A large part of the expansive government is to . . . make up for a dysfunctional society because our culture is falling apart, the family is falling apart.” So here he sees government as stepping in to fix the society of Fallen Man.

It’s a theory.

A better theory, though, would see government as the cause of at least huge chunks of the decadence in our culture.

The backstory, here, is really one of secularized Christianity. Not Christian teaching as such, but people, moved to help others — many folks’ sole take-away from the Gospels — demand that government help folks directly. Thus the building up of the welfare state.

But the welfare state has consequences. It makes it easier — even rewards — families for splitting up. Government policy, by reducing the risks for out-of-wedlock births, has encouraged much of the behavior that social conservatives decry.

I understand where DeMint is coming from, of course. And I know how vexed he must be when government, having nudged people into a culture of sexual carelessness, then tries to correct this by encouraging a worldly wisdom of, say, condom use rather than traditional morality.

But to still see government as a savior, rather than the chief malefactor to blame, strikes me as a sad omen for DeMint’s future progress as Tea Party stalwart.

You may think this is just a lapse. Surely DeMint wouldn’t do anything to undermine the cause of restraining government profligacy. I’m not so sure. Consider his most infamous recent claim, as reported by the Spartanburg Herald-Journal:

DeMint said if someone is openly homosexual, they shouldn’t be teaching in the classroom and he holds the same position on an unmarried woman who's sleeping with her boyfriend — she shouldn’t be in the classroom.
“(When I said those things,) no one came to my defense,” he said. “But everyone would come to me and whisper that I shouldn’t back down. They don’t want government purging their rights and their freedom to religion.”

Once again, it’s easy to sympathize. As a father of three home-schooled daughters, I understand the moral element in delegating responsibility for our children’s education. But DeMint apparently hasn’t come to realize that in an open society not everyone’s every moral preference can be upheld in a government enterprise. My moral notions compete with my neighbors’ — and some of them are Hindu, Protestant, Jewish, and humanist. Are we going to agree? Who gets to decide? Does the majority have full “rights and their freedom to [sic] religion” that minorities lack?

This is where too many social conservatives just haven’t politically grown up. They don’t see freedom as the solution. They see control as a solution. Instead of working for greater choice in schooling, they still try to stack school boards with “their kinds of people” and govern public schools by “their rules.”

A sad end for the Tea Party movement, if this sort of thing becomes common, and commonly associated with fiscal restraint and balanced budgets.

The question social conservative Tea Partiers have to ask themselves is this: Are we willing to wait to restore economic sense to government until everyone else has converted to modesty and the strict morality of the Ten Commandments?

I sure hope, for all our sakes, that they can prioritize, instead. Government is no savior. At best it might do a few things well, if confined to a few constitutionally limited tasks. But it’s not going to spread the wisdom of chastity, and it’s not going to convert the masses of the faithless to anyone’s religious philosophy.

Besides, this is a very American idea, that some forms of social change are best encouraged not by politics or bureaucracy or law, but by families, churches, and good old-fashioned persuasion.

Priorities, folks. Don’t make of social conservatism the Tea Party Republican version of what bailouts and socialized medicine became for the Democrats: Their natural way to lose control of the future.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.