Social conservatism is unconstitutional

The New York Times has a piece, “Iowa May Turn G.O.P.’s Focus to Social Issues.” In the piece, U.S. Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, is quoted as saying that culture, not the economy, is the most important thing in choosing a Republican nominee. Mr. King also said that he plans to endorse a candidate who can be “an effective constitutional president.”

I think that Mr. King needs to read his copy of the Constitution a bit more closely. The election in 2012 will be about the economy. All you have to do is ask the 8.9% of the labor force who is out of work whether or not the 2012 election will be about the economy. Let’s not forget the millions of homeowners who have seen their home values drop. They are suffering from an economic downturn, not an eradication of social values.

What I find peculiar, almost funny, is the social value posse’s equating of social conservatism and the Constitution. If this election is not about the economy, and you want a candidate that can be an effective constitutional president, then the right has a lot of reconciling to do.

The Constitution makes no mention of “God“, “church“, “family“, “abortion“, or “marriage“. The Constitution mentions the word “religion” once in its treatment of the prohibition on government’s establishment of a national religion. These are the bedrock keywords of social conservatives like King, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, and Mike Huckabee.

The Constitution, however, refers to the word “tax” at least six times. “Commerce” is referenced at least two times, “duty” and its derivative, “duties”, is referenced at least seven times. Duty is mentioned as it relates to what government can impose in terms of taxation. The word “money” is mentioned at least five times.

In addition, “militia” is mentioned seven times; “army”, “armies”, “navy”, and “naval” are mentioned a combined eight times.

Just based on this simple analysis, it is peculiar that social conservatives continue to harp on social values when the Founding Fathers clear intent was for government’s role to be steeped in regulating commerce, ensuring the financing of government, and protecting the nation from threats without and within with a strong national defense.

Am I missing something? If so, let me know.

Sorry Mr. King. You can’t have it both ways.

About Alton Drew

Alton Drew brings a straight forward and insightful brand of political market intelligence. Alton Drew graduated from the Florida State University with a Bachelor of Science in economics and political science (1984); a Master of Public Administration (1993); and a Juris Doctor (1999). You can also follow Alton Drew on Twitter @altondrew.
This entry was posted in Elections 2012, Mike Huckabee, Political Economy, Republicans, Sarah Palin and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Social conservatism is unconstitutional

  1. Jess Chapman says:

    It baffles me that someone can call themselves a “constitutional conservative” in the same breath they use to voice their support for the blatantly unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act. I don’t care how many members of your base want it; the Founding Fathers say they can’t have it.

    • altondrew says:

      Thanks for sharing, Jess. I don’t believe that one can call themselves a constitutional conservative and support the Defense of Marriage Act. Constitutional conservatives should be the first ones to say no to the Act.

  2. Kenneth Ciszewski says:

    As to

    “Let’s not forget the millions of homeowners who have seen their home values drop. They are suffering from an economic downturn, not an eradication of social values.”

    I could make the argument that a serious deterioration of certain values, such as honest and integrity on the part of mortgage lenders, Wall Street banks, and business in general may have led to the problems in the housing market and the economy overall. However, that’s not the topic under discussion.

    I think your title is a little misleading–social conservatism isn’t “unconstitutional” in the legal sense, it’s just that social conservatism’s alleged primary issues, the ones you mentioned, aren’t addressed specifically in the US Constitution. This is nominally true.

    What I find interesting is that your analysis, which is quite excellent, sounds a lot like a strict constructionist approach to interpreting the Constitution. Maybe it’s not, but it sounds like it. In this sense, if the conservatives who constantly complain that US Federal courts continually fail to interpret the Constitution strictly, but “stretch” it to “make new law” were actually sincere about that claim, then they would have to follow the logic of your analysis and stay out of people’s private lives (with regard to God, church, marriage, abortion, family) because this is an area in which the courts have tended to go against certain conservative values–having God in the public school classroom, limiting marriage to heterosexuals, outlawing abortion, saying that contraception is banned by law (this was overturned in one of the states around 1948!!), outlawing sex between consenting adults outside of marriage (even between heterosexuals), etc. (Witness the recent interview in the state of Alaska with a candidate for some state office who wants to make adultery illegal and punishable under state law.)

    Representative King’s statement about “culture” makes it clear that he is really talking about this problem, although he’s got his branches of government mixed up. It’s the courts that are the “problem”–getting Presidents and legislators that believe in these conservative values isn’t too difficult among Republicans, but the courts, well, that’s another story. The law (in court) has it’s own logic–conservative moral values have not been much of a driving force in court rulings.

    You’re not missing anything. Representative King is either confused, or doesn’t understand how the three branches of government work.

    • altondrew says:

      Thanks, Ken. Whether we agree, disagree, or split the difference, I always appreciate your insightful analysis. I admit that my approach does take on the flavor of a strict constructionist. I also admit that I have avoided defining myself as such because the term seems to be aligned with the unenlightened. My view of the constitution is that if it is read and applied according to what’s written, the document becomes a great libertarian work.

      Social conservatives always argue how destructive big government is, yet, as you eloquently pointed out, they are the first to tout very intrusive views such as their positions against abortion and gay marriage. Quite honestly while I never considered myself a social conservative, I was at one time in the anti-abortion, anti gay marriage camp. I believe, however, that we could put to rest a lot of the tension regarding he role of government if we simply apply the Constitution as written. I am not naive to believe that there will be no need for interpretation, but I also believe it is time to stop stretching the document beyond its boundaries. I don’t believe that the Constitution is a living, breathing document. That’s the excuse that is used by too many liberals to put government into areas it doesn’t belong in.

  3. Kenneth Ciszewski says:

    Great reply.

    The question becomes, then, what are the “boundaries” of the Constitution, and also how do they relate to laws that may be legislated that deal with topics not covered within those boundaries? We have a long tradition of common law that also plays into court decisions. Because the appeals process sometimes raises the question of whether or not a law infringes on someone’s “rights”, we need a way to know what the Constitution says about those “rights”. This is where the whole process gets tricky, since the Constitution, as you point out, doesn’t cover everything.

    So, for example, was the decision in Brown v. Board of Education that separate but equal public school facilities were unconstitutional wrong? We have a 14th amendment that might cover this case, but it’s not specific to education. Was this “stretching” the Constitution? After all, it was state law, not Federal law, that legalized separate but equal.

    Was the 1973 decision that struck down the law against abortion “stretching” the Constitution by creating a “right” to abortion, or should the law have stayed out of that area in the first place–that is, there should never have been a law banning abortion? If this was stretching the Constitution, but you believe that there should never have been such a law passed, how do citizens get protection from over zealous legislatures?

    What about the court decisions that ban the teaching of “creationism” as science in public school, based on the idea that creationism is religion, and that such teaching violates the “establishment” clause of the Constitution? The US Supreme Court set up legal tests in this area to determine when this is taking place–there was a case a few years ago that made headlines where a school board tried to do this and lost in Federal court. Is this “stretching” the Constitution, or merely applying the establishment clause?

    This last leads to a more interesting question: does the freedom of religion implied by the establishment clause of the Constitution also imply freedom from religion? Was the intent of the establishment clause to prevent religious oppression, over and above the specific requirement of the establishment clause?

    These are some of the hot button issues for which courts have been criticized based on the idea that a strict constructionist reading of the Constitution would not have led to those specific court rulings.

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