Clarification (Because you asked!)
Yesterday, I posted The Republican Dilemma. I thank all of you for taking the time to read it, but one reader pointed out that they were a little confused by the terminology I used in that post. I can understand that, as anyone who wasn’t paying attention to politics prior to 1980, or who only reads liberal publications (Huffington Post, Salon, New Republic, etc.) might think all conservatives are alike. So I’m taking a few moments to identify each group I wrote about.
- Rockefeller Republicans: These conservatives have formed the backbone of the Republican Party since the end of the Civil War. They prefer a laissez faire approach to governmental involvement in business affairs, but also believe a proper role for government is to administer social justice – if only to absolve business of the need. These folks like social government programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and the like. Most don’t necessarily think there is anything wrong with the Obama administration’s Health Care Law, other than President Obama and the Democratic Party passed it.
- Social Conservatives: Often the most vocal component of the conservative movement, people who identify as social conservatives think governments primary role should be to maintain a type of social stability based on Judeo-Christian ethics while preserving a WASP heritage. These are the folks who get most excised over gay marriage, abortion and immigration. They believe that government programs that work to those ends are money well spent, regardless of cost.
- Reagan Democrats: I realize this sounds like an oxymoron, but this represents a group that prior to 1980 was closely identified with Democratic Party. These are middle-class, ethnically white voters that hail from the “Rust Belt.” Many of them are members, or have close family ties, to trade unions. They believe government’s role is to promote fair trade (not the same as the open trade preferred by their Rockefeller cousins) and generally like most government programs. They can get worried about economic issues such as trade imbalances and federal debt when the economy tanks, but mostly they prefer that the government remain activist – just not activist enough to promote racial or social equality.
- Goldwater Conservatives: This group came to the fore with former Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s bid for the Presidency in 1964. This group is most often identified today as “fiscal conservatives,” although the reality is this group is after a more federalist model of government, with delineation of authority between federal and state governments. Generally speaking, they prefer a smaller federal government with less spending and authority.
President Reagan, as noted yesterday, was able to knit these disparate views into a cohesive political force by drawing on their commonalities. For instance, there is an obvious link between social conservatives, Rockefeller republicans and Reagan Democrats; all three share a desire for social stability. But he was also able to weave in the Goldwater faction (of which he was a card-carrying founding member) by telling the other three groups that their aims could be met – but by shifting many federal responsibilities to the states. (The reforms that followed to medicaid, the semi-privatization of medicare and the Social Security rework in the 1980s are all examples).