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Are Social Conservatives “Statist Control Freaks”? Not So Fast

This weekend, NewsRealBlog’s Lori Heine objected to Ann Coulter’s recent column attempting to tie WikiLeaks enabler Bradley Manning to the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Today, she responds to several critical commenters. I’m not terribly interested in revisiting DADT right now—my position is that I’ll defer to military experts on what changes should be made to the current policy, but I insist that the decision be based on military criteria alone, not political correctness or kowtowing to the whims of the radical gay Left.  Lori argues her position well, and successfully refutes several of her critics.

However, I must take issue with the way she conflates social conservatism with statism:

One form of fun of which big-government statists on the social Right never seem to tire is the purity game.  True believers must toe the line and never stray from it, even one jot or tittle.  “You are no conservative,” another commenter harrumphed at me.  Since this person evidently thinks only the big-government, control-freak statists on the social Right are the “real” conservatives, then according to his definition of course I am not.  Nor would I ever want to be.

What I am is a former Leftist progressive who has come to the conclusion that libertarian conservatism is – for a wide variety of reasons – the right direction for America to take.  The relentless and childish tug-of-war of the past few elections has convinced me that the Left and the statist Right are actually as alike as Tweedledee and Tweedledum and that they are, together, pulling the country apart.  Just as Leftists view any liberal who believes in small government and individual initiative a heretic, so do those on the Right who view anyone who does not share their fantasies about Granny Government and her all-powerful magic wand “not a real conservative.”

What I think of the “purity game” is no secret, either, but here I want to consider this talk of “big-government, control-freak statists on the social Right” who believe the government has an “all-powerful magic wand.”

Maybe I just missed them, but I’m struggling to recall a significant number of examples of this nefarious social-con variation. To be sure, there are a select handful of individuals who come to mind—for instance, Joseph Farah and Peter Sprigg—but beyond that, I don’t know how any significant, respected portion of the social conservative movement fits the bill.

Social conservatives, by and large, have four major concerns pertaining to public policy:

None of the above can be reasonably construed as comprising a “statist” agenda, nor does any of it rely upon unrealistic expectations of what government is capable of, or violate the boundaries of the Constitution. Granted, there are a handful of lesser issues that might not line up so well—federal faith-based initiatives come to mind—but they’re hardly what motivates the average social conservative to get out of bed in the morning.

And while some so-con figures and groups might take an overly broad view of government power, or blur the lines between federal and state, on some of the second- and third-tier issues, that’s a far cry from “statism.” When I hear rhetoric like “statist,” “control freak,” or “all-powerful,” I envision a far more comprehensive agenda, exercising far more control over how we run our daily lives—meddling in everything from the lightbulbs we use and the news we watch to the toys in our kids’ Happy Meals and your choice of health insurance.

If that doesn’t convince you, I urge you to check out a 2008 American Thinker piece by Randall Hoven, a self-described agnostic libertarian who looks at the political landscape and concludes that social conservatives are overwhelmingly allies to libertarians on true matters of liberty.

If I’ve somehow missed the secret statist agenda of the social conservative movement, then by all means, show me. But as it stands, I just don’t see it.


Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College.  He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.

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