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{Published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, January 6, 2010}

The conservative movement, to the extent there is such a thing, moved two steps forward and one step back this week. Two steps forward because the [[Conservative Political Action Committee]] accepted a conference sponsorship from a group of gay conservatives. One step back because the usual suspects are showing their usual displeasure in the usual fashion.

There are several reasons why the “family values” crowd should let this one go quietly. For one, politics isn’t about ideological purity, or about taking a stand, or about the meaning of life. It’s about winning and holding political power. You do that by finding the unifying issues between groups.

Consider, for example, an African-American Southern Baptist minister and a gay rights activist. Both can comfortably nestle within the bosom of the Democratic Party, despite their being completely at odds on a very important issue. They set aside their differences in favor of actually getting something done, and they do this without compromising their integrity.

Does anybody think that a black southern preacher supports gay rights just because he’s a Democrat? Of course not. Does anyone think gay activists embrace Christian fundamentalism because they share a party affiliation with southern conservatives? Hardly. Both simply realize they are better off working together, as part of a winning coalition, than by trying to one-up each other in demonstrating the courage of their convictions.

It’d be one thing if social conservatism and fiscal conservatism could play nicely together. The evidence, however, says they can’t. As public policies, they are incompatible.

Consider what happened between 2000 and 2006. During that time, Republicans controlled the government, and social conservatives controlled the Republicans. We had a Supreme Court justice anoint the U.S. Attorney General with holy oil. The Bush administration performed an unprecedented federal intervention in the state matter of Terry Schiavo due to pressure from social conservatives. Congress somehow found the time to deal with the vital national question of offshore Internet gambling, due to pressure from groups like Focus on the Family. Back then, Ted Haggard was president of the [[National Association of Evangelicals]]. He spoke to the President every week.

During these halcyon days of social conservative influence, federal spending skyrocketed, from $1.863 trillion to $3.414 trillion. By any measure you care to name (non-defense related expenses, entitlements, budget outlays as percentage of GDP), Bush and the Republican Congress taxed and spent like drunken sailors on leave, more than any administration since [[Lyndon Johnson]]’s. Complaints by Republicans today about Democrats bankrupting the treasury are the height of hypocrisy. All Democrats are doing is surfing the tidal wave from the hurricane of Republican profligacy.

The enthusiastic acceptance by social conservatives of tax-and-spend policies shouldn’t be a surprise to any student of political theory. Government large enough to shape the personal behavior of American citizens in the way social conservatives want must also be large enough to shape their economic behavior. Ultimately, there really isn’t much difference between the two. Economics is personal, and personal behaviors have economic consequences.

Social conservatives should realize that the world they want is only achievable through the power of personal persuasion, not the power of law. They will be in a better position to articulate their values and do the work they believe is important when they live in a world that is freer and more prosperous than the one we have now.

That will only happen if they willingly join a Republican party committed to cutting regulations, cutting taxes, cutting spending, fighting the forced redistribution of wealth, and healing our crippled market economy. In order to do that, Republicans must win elections. How can Republicans win elections? 2009 polls by CBS, Bloomberg, and CNN all say the same thing: They must pursue a program in which social issues take a back seat to economic ones. Saying “[[It’s the economy, stupid]]” is a bit harsh, but it’s true.

This week’s events around CPAC are a reminder that the tension between social conservatism and limited government is building up along the San Andreas Fault of the Republican Party. One way or another, the earthquake will come. Let us hope that America’s precious heritage of individual freedom and economic prosperity does not fall into the fissure.