Much has been made of Kaitlin Jenner’s entry into the California gubernatorial free-for-all. Much of the political buzz about Jenner, notwithstanding her celebrity status, is that she is “socially liberal, fiscally conservative.”
This is supposed to be a magic formula that can transform politics. In places like California, a firm hand is needed on the financial tiller of this high-tax, spendthrift state, 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 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 back in those days when we only had two sexes and the national debt to GDP 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. To continue, the social liberal believes that heroin or methamphetamine addiction is a legitimate lifestyle, and theft is typically 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 she declared that transsexual women should not be competing in women’s sports. Maybe Jenner will confound the stereotypes. And maybe what was just described 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 that represents themselves as a social conservative and a fiscal liberal? The first thing to recognize is a politician that identifies as a social conservative doesn’t have to represent the most extreme stereotype of a social conservative. 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, GW Bush, and Trump did a fine enough job doing that, although Obama was a big help.
What a fiscal liberal could mean is simply to acknowledge that government spending has an unavoidable and often desirable role in American society. The fiscal debate has never been over government spending vs. no government, it’s been over what to spend money on, and how much money to spend. So a fiscal liberal can start by rejecting the libertarian fantasy that governments can be pared to the bone. They can’t. Admitting that can eliminate a time consuming distraction, and allow the focus to turn 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 social 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.
Fiscal liberalism can 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 prices, 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 around the decade of the ’90s, America turned a corner. Before that time, 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?
A fiscal liberal and social conservative 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, because they’re fiscal liberals.
Perhaps it’s time to try this on for size. We’ve tried everything else.
This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.
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Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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