Tea Parties and Social Coservatism

The Politico has a column discussing the libertarian streak in the Tea Party movement and how it relates to socially conservative groups, especially religious groups, that may feel that their concerns are being ignored.

A reeling economy and the massive bank bailout and stimulus plan were the triggers for a resurgence in support for the Republican Party and the rise of the tea party movement. But they’ve also banished the social issues that are the focus of many evangelical Christians to the background.

And while health care legislation has brought social and economic conservatives together to fight government funding of abortion, some social conservative leaders have begun to express concern that tea party leaders don’t care about their issues, while others object to the personal vitriol against President Barack Obama, whose personal conduct many conservative Christians applaud.

“There’s a libertarian streak in the tea party movement that concerns me as a cultural conservative,” said Bryan Fischer, director of Issue Analysis for Government and Public Policy at the American Family Association. “The tea party movement needs to insist that candidates believe in the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage.”

“As far as I can tell [the tea party movement] has a politics that’s irreligious. I can’t see how some of my fellow conservatives identify with it,” said Richard Cizik, who broke with a major evangelical group over his support for government action on climate change, but who remains largely in line with the Christian right on social issues. “The younger Evangelicals who I interact with are largely turned off by the tea party movement — by the incivility, the name-calling, the pathos of politics.”

There’s no centralized tea party organization, and anecdotes suggest that many tea party participants hold socially conservative views. But those views have been little in evidence at movement gatherings or in public statements, and are sometimes deliberately excluded from the political agenda. The groups coordinating them eschew social issues, and a new Contract From America, has become an article of concern on the social right.

So does this mean that the Tea Party movement isn’t far-right anymore?

The column pulls out the common demon of the evil, hate-filled, intolerant, Christian far-right, which supposedly dictates all policies for the Republican Party and is working hard to establish a theocracy. The fact that the last two major Christian political groups, the Christian Coalition and the Promise Keepers, have had little significance for almost 15 years now, doesn’t seem to have been noticed.

But it’s true – the Tea Party movement has been leaning largely libertarian. And I know many conservatives that like it for that reason. I think it’s really hard to argue that the government shouldn’t intrude in your life by determining what health insurance you have, what kind of car you can drive, and what food you can eat, but then think it’s okay to use the government to determine what gods someone should pray to or who can marry whom.

The thing about being socially conservative that makes it different from being socially liberal is hat conservatives by in large do not subscribe to the idea of moral relativism, and are not afraid to make a judgment on something as right or wrong. So it becomes possible to refrain from banning some behavior because you find it morally objectionable, while still telling the people who are doing it that you think they’re in the wrong. I think the prohibition on drug use is ridiculous, but I’ll certainly tell a drug addict that he’s ruining his life and needs to make a change. But I won’t force him, because all that will do is make him a criminal drug addict.

Of course, not all conservatives agree with me. Some just regard the fiscal crisis as more important an issue than social issues right now. And let’s face it — socialism is known for using force and economic restrictions to endorse certain behaviors and suppress others. It makes sense that social conservatives would oppose the current economic power grab first, for once it is complete, it may not be possible to effectively work towards other social goals.

Jillian Bandes at Townhall picks up on the Politico story and agrees that socially conservative issues do seem to be left out of many Tea Party agendas.

Robert Stacy McCain writes a response at the American Spectator in which he argues that the Tea Party movement does have a religious grounding — the 8th Comandment. (That’s the one about not stealing, just so you know). McCain references a piece he wrote in 2008 that argues the imorality of the welfare state on the basis that it is wrong to steal form one person and give that to another.


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