There’s a certain complaint that my leftist acquaintances trot out all the time, and it goes a little something like this:
“These stupid tea baggers are always complaining about the intrusiveness of government, yet they’re perfectly happy to allow government to tell us what to do when it comes to things like abortion. What hypocrites!”
Unfortunately, this line of argument has turned out to be very powerful. Many conservatives have drifted over into the fiscally conservative/socially liberal camp precisely because they cannot effectively answer this charge. But they should not have conceded ground in this way. There are ways to strike down the left’s childish claims of hypocrisy, and if you’ll permit me a little time, I can demonstrate what I mean.
First of all, the argument above is based on a highly debatable premise. It assumes that the decision to have an abortion is similar to any decisions we may make in the economic realm. But we in the pro-life movement believe that the decision to have an abortion belongs in an utterly different category. We believe that the fetus is a human being just like all of us who happen to be walking about and that he or she therefore deserves to be accorded the very same right to life that the rest of us enjoy. Having an abortion is not like deciding whether or not to buy an electric car; in our view, it is murder — a murder which takes place under many guilt-mitigating circumstances, but a murder nonetheless. And from this basic premise, we logically conclude that it is right and proper for government to seek to curtail the practice of abortion, just as the government correctly seeks to discourage other forms of murder.
But what about other instances in which the right attempts to “legislate morality”? Well, that brings me to my second argument: that the left fails to understand how the conservative philosophy fits together — how it is all of a piece. As I discussed in my series on the federal budget, a conservative believes in at least four different levels of government – 1) the individual/family/immediate community level, 2) the municipal/local level, 3) the state level, and 4) the federal level – and it is absolutely critical to our model of governance that all of these levels be in working order. How does morality fit in to all of this? Well, in our view, those moral standards that we conservatives are so keen to enforce are what truly allow the first level – the individual/family/immediate community level – to operate. Without those standards, families and communities fall apart and ever larger government entities are forced to pick up the slack.
Now, I suppose we could let people run riot on the bottom floor and let the upper floors take over, but in the real world, that turns out to be an inefficient – and often degrading – strategy. Would you rather have a representative of the federal government tell you to eat right and exercise on a regular basis, or would you rather have your own mother give you that advice? Well, if we allow the left to bully us into conceding that traditional marriage isn’t really necessary after all, pretty soon, very few will have the chance to pick the latter option. Mom, now husband-less, will be too busy working.
In the end, we conservatives believe our opponents have it completely ass-backwards. Leftists see something in the socioeconomic sphere that legitimately offends their sense of justice – sexual harassment, for example – and decide we must have more and stiffer federal laws. In other words, when they see thousands of young children drowning in a raging river, they immediately jump in the water to save all the children they can see and don’t worry over whether that’s really the most prudent or efficacious course of action. Conservatives, on the other hand, see the same injustice and wonder whether some sort of moral breakdown – a fault in the first link of the government chain – might be a contributing factor; in the case of the sexual harasser, for example, a conservative will note – correctly, I feel – that it is difficult to train young men to treat women with respect in the meat-market that is the post-sexual revolution dating scene. In other words, when conservatives see thousands of young children drowning in a raging river, they tell at least one of their number to walk upstream to see who’s throwing the children in the water to begin with. (And if that particular conservative is of a military bent, he’ll probably kick the child-murderer’s ass.)
We can’t write public policy solely to assuage our own feelings of indignation, and we can’t write public policy to satisfy some ridiculous standard of ideological purity. We have to write public policy that works first and foremost. And as far as we conservatives can see, the leftist plan to slacken the reigns on our morality while tightening the reigns everywhere else simply doesn’t work. It sends our society into a tailspin that a constantly expanding government bureaucracy can’t possibly arrest.