At the outset, I should note that we are generally fans of FreedomWorks, Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe. We have featured Kibbe’s work on the front page of RedState before. But less than 24 hours after the most significant election for Republicans in this generation, Kibbe opened his mouth and let some uninformed and insulting commentary fall out, essentially blaming Ken Buck’s loss in Colorado on “social issues.”
Of course, the most immediate point to be made about this analysis is that it is completely unsupported by any concrete evidence whatsoever. The second obvious point is that it ignores everything that, you know, actually happened in the Colorado Senate race, including the Dan Maes meltdown (coupled with a very strong Dem candidate in Hickenlooper), and the media explosion and attack ads surrounding Buck’s handling of the infamous rape case which could not be adequately answered because of the NRSC’s decision to waste several million additional dollars in California. This is not to mention the total absence of effective GOTV in Colorado.
However, the most important point is that Kibbe’s remarks – which are mere echoes of similar remarks from Dick Armey prior to the election – are just the latest iteration of the tired canard always trotted out by libertarians that social conservatives are dragging down the coalition and ought to move to the back of the bus and sit quietly while the libertarians win elections. It is stupid, false, and insulting, and a completely unnecessary own-goal just hours after a major post-election high.
Of course, actual evidence indicates that significant portions of the economic libertarian platform are a good deal less popular with the American people than anything proposed by social conservatives. For instance, FreedomWorks aggressively pushes on their website the position that all the Bush tax cuts should be extended during the recess. Know how popular that position is, even with the voters who turned out on Tuesday and delivered the Republicans a rout? They oppose it, 52%-39%. What other sorts of economic policies does Dick Armey support that will be unifying as opposed to divisive?
When asked if there's a painless way to tackle debt, he suggested making Social Security and Medicare voluntary.
Dick Armey’s older than I am, so I’m pretty sure he was around in 2005. Maybe he has simply forgotten what a rousing success Social Security reform was in winning Republicans seats, but that’s okay because I’m sure Rick Santorum will be happy to fill him in on how spearheading that effort really helped his 2006 Senate run in Pennsylvania. According to a Bloomberg poll conducted in March of this year, 59% of the population opposes the privatization of Social Security and/or Medicare. A CNN Poll taken in October of 2008 found that the basic outline of the plan set forth by Armey – that contribution to social security should be voluntary – is opposed by the American public by a 36-62% margin. And does anyone want to guess what percentage of the population supports wholesale elimination of the Department of Education, another libertarian holy grail?
When compared to these issues (which are apparently controversy-free despite being opposed by well over 50% of the United States population), social conservative issues stand up pretty well. The same exit polling which found the full extension of the Bush tax cuts opposed by the public 52%-39% found that by a 54-40% margin, American agree with social conservatives that gay marriage should not be legally recognized. The 2008 General Social Survey commissioned by the University of Chicago found that 60.6% of the population disagrees with the proposition that a woman should be able to obtain a legal abortion if the woman wants it "for any reason," suggesting that the majority of the population is persuadable to significant portions of the pro-life agenda.
Of course, the fact that policies are unpopular does not make them incorrect or not worth fighting for. Personally, I believe that all the Bush tax cuts should be extended, contribution to Social Security should be voluntary (or not at all), and that huge portions of the Federal Government should be reduced or eliminated altogether. And in fact I believe that given sufficient time, the public can be brought around to agree with these positions. And that is what is so wrongheaded about the argument that Kibbe and Armey are setting forth. It presupposes that if an idea is even marginally unpopular right now it should be immediately dropped from public discussion in favor of more convenient and expedient issues. This approach may well have some marginal net gain in the next election but long-term, it spells disaster for any hope of moving the country to the right as a whole. And furthermore, putting off discussion of those issues for now ensures they will never be foremost in the public's mind.
The reality, of course, is that conservative politics is a coalition business. Certain libertarian issues are more popular than others, and certain social conservative issues are more popular than others. If we work together in a process of give and take, we can win elections and the end result is that significant parts of the platform that appeal to both sides can at least potentially be enacted. I am not sure who Armey and Kibbe think they are to tell half the coalition to get to the back of the bus and shut up about their issues, or what conceit leads them to believe that their issues are popular and beloved by all, but continuing to indulge in it publicly is a sure way to fracture the group that sustained combined efforts to lead Republicans to victory on Tuesday.
We have a major fight yet ahead of us in governing over the next two years, and then a Presidential election. I don't think Armey and Kibbe suppose that we will have a lot of success if social conservatives spend the next two years telling libertarians to shut up about tax cuts and entitlement reform; let us hope they can understand the folly treating the social conservative wing of the coalition with the same contempt.