As I pondered the topic of this column, I began to think about different political beliefs people hold, how they are formed and what they mean to this campus. While most UW students are best described as Obama Democrats, there are quite a few resilient conservatives that exist, many of whom join College Republicans and Young Americans for Liberty.
Many members of these groups, generally more aligned with the Republican Party, consider themselves socially liberal but fiscally conservative. Meaning that they’ve got no real problem with gay marriage or abortion but don’t like the idea of a national debt totaling $13.4 trillion.
So, these people tend to support Republicans, often times ignoring the fact that the social beliefs many members of the GOP hold do not match up to their own beliefs.
But what about the flipped around version of that ideology? Are there any people who are socially conservative and fiscally liberal?
You could certainly argue that the neoconservatives that were a part of the Bush administration were just that. After all, they were vehemently opposed to gay marriage and stem cell research, while at the same time supporting a multi-billion dollar war against a country that posed no immediate threat to the United States.
The issue with that is people tend to refer to themselves as “fiscally liberal” in the sense that they want to spend money on social programs, such as welfare, unemployment and health care.
Given that, is it possible to be both “fiscally liberal,” in that you want to spend money fighting homelessness and poverty, and at the same time be “socially conservative,” in that you are anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage and pro-religion in schools?
In other words, does such a person exist that caters to every whim of the Vatican and wants to spend taxpayer dollars to support major social welfare programs? Or are those things mutually exclusive?
If such a person exists, I don’t think I’ve met them.
Truly, it comes down to a matter of social empathy. If you have the ability to detect the obvious issues in society (think poverty and de facto segregation) and want to use government to fix them, you should also be able to understand the more personal, internal issues — such as why homosexuals feel discriminated against for not being able to marry, or why atheists feel personally offended when their son has to stand silently while the rest of his public school class takes part in prayer time.
Those personal, internal issues are easy for people to understand when they’re directly faced with them. That’s why you have conservative college students who are socially liberal — maybe they’ve had a few close gay friends or have seen how unwanted pregnancies create complicated situations. However, they weren’t raised to think their parents’ tax dollars should go toward unemployment benefits — a system that is, regrettably, irreversibly flawed.
Traditional conservatives and these “socially liberal” conservatives have something in common: They want to decrease government spending, almost always by cutting social programs or public works. Which is fine. They want to have their cake and eat it too. I get that.
But I wonder at what point those two groups will break apart. As more and more Americans begin to empathize with the causes championed by “social liberals,” will fiscal conservatism survive in the way it exists today? I lean toward no, but selfish, big government haters will always be around.
Kevin Bargnes (email@example.com) is a senior majoring in journalism and history. If you’re a fiscal liberal but still a social conservative, shoot him an e-mail, he’d like to pick your mind a bit.