The Goals of Economic and Social Conservatives
How much should the government intervene in order to promote social and economic equality? To what extent should government policies respect personal privacy or promote traditional morality? Is it permissible to restrict individual liberties in order to protect public safety? How citizens respond to these questions can reveal sharp divides in their opinions on the appropriate role of government in shaping society, known as social policy. Derived partly from shared interpretations of core values like equality of opportunity and limited government and partly from responses to historical events, approaches to social policy differ across the ideological spectrum. Of course, individuals vary in their beliefs, and even someone who identifies strongly with one political party might not endorse every aspect of its platform.
Social conservatism is the belief in holding to historical beliefs, often influenced by religion, on so-called social issues. This includes the belief that marriage is only between one man and one woman, that life begins at conception (and that abortion is tantamount to killing a human being), that gender is determined by biology, and that religious organizations and businesses should be free to operate without the government interfering (often referred to as religious liberty or religious freedom). Social conservatism is often based in religious traditions, but being religious is not a prerequisite for being socially conservative. However, the beliefs of many social conservatives reflects the teachings of conservative Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups. For example, they may believe that since God created every human being, abortion is violating God's will, or a social conservative may know that life begins at conception, so abortion ends a human life, whether or not they are personally religious. Social conservatives are prominent in the Midwest and in the South, the so-called Bible Belt. Fiscal conservatism is the belief that the economy functions best with minimal governmental influence. Fiscal conservatives often support lower taxes and less regulations (laws and rules on how a business is allowed to operate). They are proponents of free-market capitalism - the belief that capital (usually defined as money) is best allocated without government direction. Fiscal conservatives believe that individuals and companies can best respond to the demands of consumers, instead of a government bureaucrat. For example, fiscal conservatives oppose socialized medicine, where the government decides how much doctors make, what treatments are allowed, and millions of other decisions. Instead, fiscal conservatives believe that competition between doctors, hospitals, clinics, and pharmaceutical companies will produce the lowest-cost, highest-quality care. A Tea Party rally calling for lower taxes and cutting government spending. Supporters of fiscal conservatives can have different names and comprise different groups. Most fiscal conservatives are members of the Republican Party, although some may be members of the Libertarian Party. They may consider themselves Tea Party members, libertarians (ideologically, not the political party), or capitalists. They may be entrepreneurs or managers of businesses. Or they may come from any number of occupations but in general support limited government.
Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign marked the rise of the conservative movement to power within the Republican Party and laid the foundation for Ronald Reagan’s victory 16 years later (Bennett). Today, Goldwater has become an icon of opposition to social conservatism. However, a closer look reveals a very different Goldwater in 1964, one who embraced many features of social conservatism as natural components of a broader conservatism. Several of the hot-button issues that later mobilized social conservatives en masse were either non-issues or had only begun to stir. Consequently, there was not yet a distinct mass movement of religious conservatives. And, of course, Goldwater’s main themes were limited government and anti-communism. Nevertheless, the modern Republican Party’s social conservatism was actually anticipated and advanced by Goldwater’s 1964 campaign (Land). For one thing, Goldwater articulated a view of the American founding and the purpose of America, as well as the nature of man, that was fundamentally moral and even religious in character. In his 1964 nomination acceptance speech, Goldwater extolled “freedom under a government limited by the laws of nature and nature’s God.” He warned that “those who elevate the state and downgrade the citizen must see ultimately a world in which earthly power can be substituted for Divine Will, and this Nation was founded upon the rejection of that notion and upon the acceptance of God as the author of freedom.” Described by one political historian as “preachy” and a“half-crazed moral zealot (Martin 1971),” Goldwater also identified and decried a national moral decline. Indeed, Goldwater made morality the centerpiece of a 30-min televised address that aired on CBS on October 20, 1964. In the address, delivered at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, he declared that “The moral fiber of the American people is beset by rot and decay,” cited George Washington’s dictum (beloved by today’s social conservatives) that “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports,” and pledged his “every effort to a reconstruction of reverence and moral strength” in America.
As can be seen, it is the hope, however seemingly misplaced at the present historical moment, to nudge the conversation (even slightly) in this direction that has led us to carry out the present investigation, using the methods of quantitative textual analysis to explore liberal and conservative conceptions and representations of the good society. If the members of even a highly divisive society can agree on terminal values such as economic prosperity, family strength, community and solidarity, and the pursuit of health, happiness, and freedom, then perhaps it is possible to think more seriously about how to work together to foster the social conditions that bring them about.
Robertson, The New World Order, p. 169.
Land, The Divided States of America?, p. 144.
Bennett, The Broken Hearth, p. 36.