There Is No Fiscal Conservatism without Social Conservatism
As we are just days away from the first Republican Primary debate, undoubtedly the topic of fiscal conservatism versus social conservatism will come up in the conversation. There are some Republicans who will say that in order to beat Joe Biden next November, Republicans must stay away from social issues (i.e., LGBTQ agendas, abortion, etc.) and focus on economic issues. But is this a wise strategy?
To an extent, I understand their point. Fiscal issues impact everyday Americans every day and there are numerous examples for conservatives to score political points against the Biden administration.
According to Politico, inflation is at a 40-year high. From 1960-2022, the overall price increase of items was 903.96%! “An item that cost 100 dollars in 1960 costs 1,003.96 dollars at the beginning of 2023.” While some inflation is to be expected in that timeframe, a price increase of 903.96% is pretty astronomical, even in the financial sector. In order to curb inflation, the Federal Reserve has been steadily and exponentially increasing interest rates since 2021, leaving many unable to afford a new mortgage at all. And even with the ever-increasing rates, the average home prices have not fallen as they predicted, nor has the consumer price index. Inflation has failed to be controlled by these rate hikes, making prices and financial products to buy these items more expensive.
Thus, having Republicans campaign with promises of reeling in federal spending and being “fiscal conservatives” sounds incredibly attractive. I hear it from my colleagues all the time at the Ohio Statehouse. I’ve been an aide here since 2017, and many of them (recent college graduates from a plethora of political science programs) say the prevailing strategy that will actually win elections is to leave social conservative issues in the dust and focus on fiscal conservative issues. “Just leave the culture wars behind, people are sick of it,” they say.
And I get it. A popular argument is that the conservative ideal is “small government” — small enough to stay out of people’s personal lives. But, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, that’s the definition of a libertarian — not a conservative. While there definitely is some overlap, the Brittanica Encyclopedia definition of conservative is “believing in the value of established and traditional practices in politics and society … traditional in taste style or manners …”
When I was an intern with Family Research Council in 2016, I would have to say I was still forming my political worldview. (Side note: I highly encourage the experience of being an FRC intern to any young person who can. It was a life-changing experience.) One day, one of my coworkers came up to a group of us and said, “Well, ‘conservative’ comes from the word ‘conserve.’ So, the question becomes, ‘What are you conserving?’”
That question hit me like a ton of bricks. I thought I knew what I was. If anyone had asked me who I was politically, I would say I was a conservative, but what was I conserving? What was I trying to help our country hold onto instead of letting slip away?
Oddly enough, I came into my job as a Republican staffer with my bachelor’s degree in social work and an MBA in public administration. Social work, if you know much about it, is a notoriously liberal progressive field. However, my social work professors themselves actually started me down the path of social conservatism.
In my Introduction to Social Work class, the professor was defining the difference between institutional versus residual welfare. Institutional welfare is welfare everyone is entitled to with no stigma attached. Examples of this are things like public parks, libraries, schools, and even Social Security to an extent. Residual welfare, on the other hand, are all means-tested welfare programs for when the normal structures of society (i.e., the family) break down.
There it was. In black and white, on her PowerPoint presentation, this professor just showed me the key. If we want fiscal conservatism, we must rein in welfare spending, which means the normative structures of society — the family — must be intact. So, conservatives, if we want to conserve the financial health of our country, we need to conserve the familial health of our country.
This has been backed up time and time again by various studies in various domains of our country’s financial health. Childhood poverty has numerous risk factors that the country is spending millions to mitigate, between childhood hunger, health care, mental health, academic impacts, etc. And the number one risk to having a child under the poverty line? That’s right — a single parent household.
The fact that Social Security most likely won’t be solvent within a few decades from now can be directly correlated to the fact of abortion on demand starting in 1973. If this generation were allowed to be born between 1973-1993, they would currently be between 30-50 years old, which is normally peak earning years. Thus, it would be the peak years of paying into Social Security, helping keep the system solvent. However, just in that timeframe alone, approximately 28,429,120 children were aborted, and potential workers were lost from our workforce forever.
There has been a documented shortage of foster and adoptive parents in our country for decades now. In Ohio specifically, this was exacerbated by the recent opioid epidemic from which our state is still recovering. This has cost the state millions of dollars in new placements. Adoption, many times, can help to heal children’s mental health (of which we have a crisis) because it’s seeking to heal the wound left behind by the absence of the biological parents.
However, as reported by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an adoptive parent in Oregon was just denied her adoption license because she is refusing to embrace the state’s view on gender ideology and sexual ethics that go against her Christian beliefs. According to the state of Oregon, respecting, loving, and then accepting a new child into one’s home means you must agree to participate in a child’s gender transition, including using opposite-sex pronouns, visiting Pride events, and potentially seeking “gender affirming care” — which could range from counseling all the way to life-altering, genital mutilating surgery.
There are so many examples of how charities are being shut off from helping those in need due to religious beliefs in the family. Adoption agencies, day cares, homeless shelters, schools, etc. all provide an essential function to our society and provide for the common welfare of our communities. However, due to the “culture war” that the progressive Left has continually pushed, and some Republicans shy away from, these charities are denied grants, loans, and nonprofit status.
Let me say this: I agree we need to have conservative fiscal policies as a Republican Party. I hope the candidates on August 23 discuss how we need to rein in government spending, as it is normally one third of GDP and a main driver of inflation. Also, I hope they talk about solid monetary policies and pledge to not just print money on a whim.
However, we cannot abandon the culture war. The evidence shows fiscal conservatism cannot exist without social conservatism. It’s just like my social work professor said, residual welfare programs are needed for when the family breaks down. So, let’s fix that first.
Amanda Magoteaux works as a legislative aide in the Ohio Statehouse and was a former intern with Family Research Council.