Can you be socially liberal and fiscally conservative? (No.)


We’ve all met the 20-year-old College Republican who says, “Yeah I’m a Republican, but I’m pro-choice and pro-gay. You know, I’m socially liberal, but fiscally conservative.”

Here’s the thing: that doesn’t exist. The whole concept of being “socially liberal, but fiscally conservative” is a false pretense created to accommodate younger people with gay friends who are less comfortable outright saying they don’t support gay marriage. One cannot claim to be socially liberal and stand for marginalized people, then turn around and support policies that marginalize them more.

Socially liberal policies are aimed at using the government to take action, like a regulation (the EPAs regulations on coal pollution for example) in order to produce outcomes they believe to be desirable for people. For example, the government passing a law to make it illegal for a business to not serve gay couples. Liberal policies in general tend to be more focused on marginalized people—like people of color, LGBTQ people, disabled people, and poor people.

Fiscally conservative policies, to people that employ the “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” mindset, are completely separate. Fiscally conservative people tend to be anti-welfare (many want to cut programs like Medicaid and SNAP), anti-government spending, pro-business, and advocate for a smaller government in general.

Conservative policies encourage less government intervention on businesses and instead advocate using the free market to decide policy. For example, if a company refuses to serve gay couples, fiscal conservatives claim that the company will have to answer to the market, and that will be more organic and natural than having to answer to the government. Conservative policy tends to be more focused on empowering businesses and instituting policies that are more focused on the middle section of Americans, like middle income families and people.

It is in these explanations that we can already start to see a divide. You cannot separate fiscal and economic issues from social issues, and you cannot reconcile the conservative point of view for making policy with the liberal view.

There are no issues that one can claim are purely fiscal or purely social. Even the most “social” of issues have a complete economic side to them. Abortion, for example, cannot be considered entirely social, due to its long and tumultuous history with Medicaid and government spending. Aside from that, the decision of abortion is in itself an economic one. 74% of women say they get abortions because a baby would interfere with their work or school, and 73% of women say that they could not afford a baby.

Poverty, in itself, is a social issue, but is caused by economic problems and remedied by fiscal policies. Fiscal policies have been enacted to improve quality of life and reduce poverty like Medicaid, food stamps, student loans, and disability payments.  The cycle of poverty disproportionately affects people of color, queer people, trans people, and disabled people.

But again, issues like health insurance, public education, and union laws cannot be considered in a vacuum. They all exist to protect people that are already marginalized, and messing with these policies is messing with the people that you claim to support.

It would be at this point that fiscal conservatives would say, “Well wait, I’m not opposed to government spending, I’m just opposed to wasteful government spending.” But here’s the thing: wasteful government spending in terms of these programs does not exist. Programs like Medicaid and food stamps exist to try to reduce poverty (or at least try to mitigate its effects), and improve the quality of life for poor people.

Democrats aren’t advocating for a program that would reward every newborn baby with a golden cradle, or funding an initiative that would give every 18-year-old a trip around the world, because that would be wasteful spending. But Medicaid provides a necessary service for poor people, as do food stamps, job training programs in Appalachia, and fishing subsidies in Alaska.

Now, no one is advocating that “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” people suddenly become blatantly homophobic, racist, and anti-choice. That would certainly would not be helpful. But if someone consider themselves to be “socially liberal, fiscally conservative,” they should think long and hard about why they believe what they believe. If someone truly wants to be an advocate for the LGBTQ community, disabled people, poor people, and people of color, then they should be consistent in the policies that they advocate for.

No issue exists in a vacuum, and “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” people need to recognize that.

One thought

  1. Pingback: On Cultural Liberals & Economic Conservatives | The American Moderate

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