Prior to the outcome of the Iowa caucus when it appeared that Ron Paul would be the victor, Republican media pundits were doing their best to marginalize this contest. Some commentators even went so far as to declare theIowacaucus as virtually worthless.
There is one respect—the most crucial respect as far as substance, not perception, is concerned—in which Ron Paul did as well as anyone else: he received the same number of delegates as did Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. That is, theIowarace, from this perspective, was a three way tie. Of course, you wouldn’t expect to hear that on Fox News or “conservative” talk radio. But it is true all of the same.
There is, however, another respect in which the establishment Republican’s worst nightmare did not come to pass. Paul, though finishing with an exceptionally impressive showing, did not succeed in eliciting as many votes as either Santorum or Romney. He received 22% of the vote compared to the 25% that they each garnered.
Now, all of a sudden, the outcome of the Iowa caucus is a major game changer. Until this week, Santorum didn’t come close to getting beyond single digits in any poll. He hadn’t been much more popular than Jon Huntsman, who, until recently, most people forgot is still in the race. Yet now, establishment Republican commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are bending over backwards to fuel Santorum’s momentum. So far, it would appear that their efforts have been fruitful, for Santorum is already the new frontrunner.
Santorum, in truth, is the candidate for whom Limbaugh, Hannity, and many of their colleagues have been aching all along. The conventional wisdom within the establishment Republican class is that Santorum is a “true conservative.” Why? Santorum is a “true conservative,” a conservative’s conservative, if you will, not just because of his positions on issues related to national security, but especially because of his positions on “the social issues”—i.e. “the moral issues.”
A few remarks are here in order.
First, there isn’t a single piece of legislation, or even a single activity, that is devoid of moral import. Thus, to speak of “the social issues,” meaning moral issues, as if they could be separated out from “economic issues” and “foreign policy issues” and whatever other issues that concern us is to speak confusedly. The very association—the civil association—that the United States of America itself was originally intended to be is a moral association.
Second, there is neither a single politician nor even a single American voter who isn’t as concerned as is Santorum with “the social issues.” The latter, however, has been quite successful at recruiting the media in the service of reinforcing his self-conception as the lone “social conservative” in this race. This, no doubt, has something to do with the frequency and loudness with which he speaks about “the social issues.” But, more importantly, it is due, not so much to his desire to use the federal government to advance his vision of morality—with the exception of Ron Paul, every other politician lusts after federal power—but the unabashed expression that he gives to that desire.
And this brings us to the third point.
In The Fatal Conceit, F.A. Hayek notes the numerous ways in which socialist thought has infected our vocabulary. The most prominent and common method by which this transformation has occurred has been by way of the attachment of “social” to all manner of things.
In light of Hayek’s perceptive account, it is eminently appropriate that Santorum should be crowned our “social conservative.” Santorum may not be a “socialist” according to the standard textbook definition of that term. Yet inasmuch as he favors an ever expansive government by which to coerce citizens both here and abroad into endorsing his understanding of “the common good,” he indeed advocates a morality that is much more socialist than anything else. As Ron Paul correctly noted during the debate in New Hampshire this past weekend, Santorum is as tireless an advocate of Big Government as anyone.
Leftist Democrats want to redistribute income from those who have earned it to those who have not. To this end, they exploit the voter’s Christian sensibilities, specifically, his sympathy for the needy. Republicans rightly (even if hypocritically) observe that Christian charity, real charity, is voluntary: there is no virtue where agents are compelled to act.
When it comes to the “social issues,” Republicans like Rick Santorum would be well served to practice what they preach.
Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.
also published in The Moral Liberal and American Daily Herald