Mike Huckabee is rightly trying to hold onto his evangelical base while picking up support beyond it. There's a way to do it. His critics complain about small tax increases, but it's his moral talk about extramarital sex or overeating that makes him in their minds a nanny-state, big-government guy. There's a way he can show that they're wrong.
The key is realizing that growth in governmental "human services" has come in part through the efforts of the left, but in part through the recognition of real problems. When a guy and a gal shack up, it's not purely a personal matter. That's because one result, a certain percentage of the time, is likely to be a child with a single mom, and that child at some point is likely to receive governmental support.
Or look at divorce, both bitter for the participants and a sour recipe for governmental growth. When children are involved, a judge's custody decision determines where they should live, where they should go to school, and sometimes what language they should speak. The kids are at physical risk: The growth of governmental child protection agencies parallels the surge in broken families. Even kidnapping cases usually result not from "stranger danger" but from the decision of the left-out parent to regain rights extra-legally.
Overall, family non-formation or malformation leaves kids more likely to mess up in school or drop out. Teens with an absent parent are more likely to commit crimes or get pregnant. They are more likely to have problems of mental and sometimes physical health. All of this leads to bigger government. The drive to expand governmental health care for children owes much to the growth of uninsured children in single-parent homes.
And the big debate on health-care availability and costs? The price escalation has come in part because of increased longevity and the use of expensive technology, but also because of unhealthy lifestyles. As waistlines expand so do the budgets of government health agencies and the calls for Washington action to rein in costs or improve medical access to the U.S. poor.
Libertarians tend to favor gay rights and same-sex marriage, but those also lead to bigger government. Professor Seana Segrue has pointed out that the same-sex marriage movement is a subset of a sexual revolution based in liberty, but liberty "achieved through the empowerment of a state with the strength to destroy sexual norms." Since referendum after referendum has shown that most people do not favor same-sex marriage, it requires overreaching courts to decree it, and propagandistic schools to get students to see as normal what most instinctively recognize as weird.
Libertarians rightly relish the theme throughout U.S. history of government ordaining and individuals disdaining. But what happens when individuals or their churches believe that homosexuality is wrong? Gays need strong governmental action to keep people from speaking out against it. They need officials to force organizations opposed to the gay-rights agenda to hire gays. They need criticism of homosexuality to be declared "hate speech."
This "small government requires social conservatism" argument is not a 10-second soundbite, but Huckabee can explain it in speeches and survive politically, as long as he insists that same-sex marriage be opposed only in ways that treat gays as still possessing human dignity. He should also assert that anyone who says, "I'm righteous and you're not" has an inadequate view of sin. He could then explain that a conservative position on social issues contributes to a conservative position on fiscal issues: Individuals who are family-reliant and God-reliant are rarely government-reliant.
Christianity emphasizes both individuality and community. Balancing the two has been a genius of America as well. F. Scott Fitzgerald in the The Great Gatsby almost a century ago nailed selfish folks who ignore the need for balance. He wrote about careless rich people who make messes and leave the cleanup to their servants. Today, rich and especially poor often leave the cleanup to government officials. If we want fewer officials, we need to reduce the number of messes. Social conservatism makes possible fiscal conservatism. Mike Huckabee should say so.
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