The Time Has Come for the Social Conservative-Fiscal Liberal

Much has been made of Caitlyn Jenner’s entry into the California gubernatorial free-for-all. Much of the political buzz about Jenner has to do with the claim that being “socially liberal and fiscally conservative” is the way forward.

This is supposed to be a magic formula that can transform American politics. In a state like California, the financial tiller of such a high-tax, spendthrift state needs a firm hand. Yet on social issues, the successful politician must be equally uncompromising, i.e., anything goes.

It’s nothing new. Way back in 1980, the politically moderate congressman John Anderson defected from his Republican Party to run as an independent against Ronald Reagan and incumbent Jimmy Carter in the presidential election. Anderson was also known as a “fiscal conservative and social liberal,” although it may have been a little easier to define those terms in those days when we only had two sexes and the national debttoGDP ratio was only 32 percent.

So what is a fiscal conservative and a social liberal? Perhaps the socially liberal part of it is somewhat easier to imagine. In California, to be a social liberal is to accept a Byzantine and constantly evolving set of rules that include the following: Men can have periods and women can have penises, but all white people are immutably white and hence suffer from privilege, fragility, and unconscious bias. The social liberal believes that heroin or methamphetamine addiction is a legitimate lifestyle choice, and theft is often not a crime, but a “poverty crime” that should be decriminalized. The list goes on. And on and on.

To be fair, Jenner has already had at least one “Nixon goes to China” moment, when declaring that transsexual women (that is, biological males) should not be competing in women’s sports. Maybe Jenner will confound the stereotypes. And maybe the previous description of what counts as “socially liberal” is a caricature that overstates reality. But social liberals have gone way beyond common sense and strayed into the realms of fantasy. And it’s destroying the nation.

The fiscal conservative label, at least to a conservative, seems more easily defended. But how it is expressed has done nothing to help Americans. Fiscal conservatism ought to mean cutting government spending, but all it has ever meant in reality is lowering taxes. The practical impact of “fiscal conservatism,” starting with conservative icon Ronald Reagan, has been to plunge the U.S. economy into the worst debt overhang in its history.

What About Social Conservative and Fiscal Liberal?

So why not flip these concepts, and imagine a politician who represents himself as a social conservative and a fiscal liberal? The first thing to recognize is a politician who identifies as a social conservative doesn’t have to represent the most extreme stereotypes of social conservatives. That’s pretty easy these days. You can reject the idea of mandating transsexual indoctrination in primary schools and still have compassion for people who are different. You can oppose legalizing hard drugs and still recognize that mistakes have been made in the “war on drugs.” You can bring back broken windows policing without supporting mass incarceration.

An astonishing fact today is that a politician willing to take these moderate stands is still a pariah in the eyes of the “social justice” community. But Americans would vote, with great relief, for politicians willing to display even this much courage. What about a fiscal liberal? What might that mean?

Here again, being a fiscal liberal doesn’t mean you have to spend America into the ground. After all, the “conservative” presidencies of Reagan, George W.  Bush, and Trump did a fine enough job of that, although Obama was a big help.

Fiscal liberalism in this instance could mean simply acknowledging government spending has an unavoidable and often desirable role in American society. The fiscal debate has never been over government spending versus no government; it’s been over what to spend money on, how much money to spend, and to what end. A fiscal liberal could start by rejecting the libertarian fantasy that governments can be pared to the bone. They can’t. Admitting that would eliminate a time-consuming distraction, and allow the focus to return to where government money should and should not go.

Here, the combination of social conservative and fiscal liberal becomes potent. Because why on earth should the government spend money on programs that breed dependence on government? What social conservative would support such a thing? It isn’t necessary to become an extreme fiscal conservative to save trillions. Start with a simple equation: No package of government benefits should be so enticing as to be preferable to what an American can earn from working.

Essential Infrastructure

Fiscal liberalism could enable discussions over what sort of government spending would genuinely improve national productivity and lower the cost of living for everyone. Instead of spending government funds on entitlements, spend the funds on infrastructure. Not the fraudulent, intangible “infrastructure” that social liberals in the Biden Administration want to foist on the American people. Actual physical infrastructure.

Even in the good old days of genuine American infrastructure spending, there was waste and abuse. But the projects got done fast, and at costs, adjusted for inflation, that are a fraction of what similar work would cost today. The massive public works of the 1930s gave America bridges and dams and stadiums that yield returns to this day. Similar projects such as the interstate highways and pipelines built in the 1960s also continue to pay dividends.

Sometime in the 1990s, America turned a corner. Before that decade, as cities grew, tax revenues would pay for the new parks and connector roads, and help fund the utility conduits. Home builders could develop their land and the costs they passed on to the buyers were just the costs for the land and the homes. Today that’s a distant dream. But why?

Fiscally liberal, social conservatives would spend the taxpayers’ money wisely fighting corruption and waste, because they’re social conservatives. But they would spend money in sums sufficient to make a middle-class lifestyle affordable again in America and in reach for all, because they’re fiscal liberals.

Perhaps it’s time to try this on for size. We’ve tried everything else.

About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness and co-founder in 2013 of the California Policy Center.

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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