October, 11th 2007

On David Freddoso's guns, babies, taxes theory

– Liz Mair

Yesterday, I was experiencing some problems with my internet connection, which prevented me from blogging—apologies for that.

One of the things, however, I had meant to write about—and am writing about now—was a debate going on over at NRO’s The Corner involving the definition of “conservative.” Specifically, I’d like to point to two posts by friend-of-a-friend David Freddoso here and here.

Freddoso, a very smart guy whose writing I enjoy and who I generally have a lot of time for, argues in these posts that the basic definition of a conservative is someone who is good on guns, babies and taxes. In his first post, explaining how pro-lifedom overwhelmingly leads to good stances on the other issues, guns and taxes, with the emphasis (as you can see) being on taxes:

I may be invested in this position because I am pro-life, but it's also something I've believed for a long time because of the realpolitik. It first struck me because of something Grover Norquist (of all people) said in an interview I did with him years ago at Human Events.

His exact words were something like this: "If you're willing to go to black-tie dinners and be harangued by rich donors for being pro-life, then it's a cinch to support tax cuts." The point was that the more pro-life they are, the more reliable they are on everything else. There are a lot of moderate Republicans who prove this rule every time they are the first to peel off on other issues: Chris Shays, Arlen Specter, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Mike Castle — and to go back in history a bit, Linc Chafee, Sherry Boehlert, Amo Houghton, Marge Roukema, Connie Morella, and dozens and dozens more. (A counterexample would be former Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., whose support for legal abortion did not stop him from being a staunch economic conservative.)

There’s a little (OK, a big) issue I’d like to take with this. It comes under the heading of strongly pro-life Members of Congress who are relatively weak on economic issues.

In his second post, Freddoso points to Rep. Walter B. Jones, who he essentially says can’t be dismissed as a conservative just because he is fervently opposed to continued engagement in Iraq. Fair enough—I’ll grant that an anti-war stance, problematic though it may be in conservative circles, and while I have my own personal doubts about the wisdom of the Cindy Sheehan position, doesn’t in itself mean someone isn’t a conservative.
But, I would argue that Jones’ economic record puts his status as a conservative in question, even if his strongly pro-life stance is consistent with Freddoso’s definition, and his position on the war may not be a complete disqualifier.

Here’s the point: Mike Castle, who Freddoso seems to regard as squishy on other conservative issues (and he probably has a case on guns and money) actually gets a better rating on the Club for Growth’s 2006 congressional scorecard than does the supposedly conservative Jones (Castle: 48; Jones: 43). This suggests to me that the inter-relationship between pro-lifedom and economic conservatism isn’t nearly as clear cut as Freddoso seems to think it is.

That’s a conclusion reinforced by looking at where strong pro-lifers like:

Frank Wolf (2005-2006 National Right to Life rating 100%; 2006 Club for Growth score 36);

Chris Smith (2005-2006 National Right to Life rating 100%; 2006 Club for Growth score 33—just two points better than Chris Shays);

Ed Whitfield (2005-2006 National Right to Life rating 100%, 2006 Club for Growth score 41);

Bob Aderholt (2005-2006 National Right to Life rating 100%, 2006 Club for Growth score 42);

Virgil Goode (2005-2006 National Right to Life rating 100%, 2006 Club for Growth score 43);

Mike Rogers (2005-2006 National Right to Life rating 100%; 2006 Club for Growth score 43);

Thaddeus McCotter (2005-2006 National Right to Life rating 100%, 2006 Club for Growth score 44);

John Doolittle (2005-2006 National Right to Life rating 100%, 2006 Club for Growth score 46); and

Frank Lucas (2005-2006 National Right to Life rating 100%, 2006 Club for Growth score 47)

Mike Castle, one of the most overtly moderate Republicans in the House, has a better economic record, according to Club, than all of these strong pro-lifers. And what’s really important to note here, I think, is that Castle isn’t anything close to the high water mark, where economic ratings are concerned, among pro-choice Republicans in the House. Some of those who scored rather better than him last year include:

Ginny Browne-Waite (2006 Club for Growth score 71);

David Dreier (2006 Club for Growth score 60);

Jim Kolbe (2006 Club for Growth score 57);

Deborah Pryce (2006 Club for Growth score 55);

Charlie Dent (2006 Club for Growth score 54);

Judy Biggert (2006 Club for Growth score 54); and

Bill Thomas (2006 Club for Growth score 54).

So, that’s six pro-choice Republicans who clearly best solid pro-life names like Adam Putnam, Tom Latham, Roger Wicker, Henry Brown, Henry Bonilla, Jo Bonner, and the others listed above—and so on and so forth.

Looking at the Senate, I’ll grant that it’s easier to draw the correlation between pro-lifedom and strength on economic issues that Freddoso does, but there are still those who present problems for his theory—say, Kay Bailey Hutchison, whose 2006 Club for Growth score of 58 bested that of Conrad Burns, Kit Bond, Thad Cochran, Richard Shelby and Jim Talent, among others. Several of those are also bested by John Warner, who seems to see himself as not fully pro-choice and not fully pro-life.

Jonny Isakson, who has never to my knowledge been viewed as a strong pro-lifer also does better according to Club than Jeff Sessions, Lamar Alexander, Mike Crapo, David Vitter, Richard Burr, Mel Martinez, and all of those that Hutchison bests.

This is a lot of detail, which could potentially be seen as a lot of quibbling, I know. But, I do think it’s important to point out where “conservatives” look less conservative than their socially moderate kin, and where social moderates look more conservative than “conservatives.” The correlation that many draw between being strongly pro-life, and being strongly pro-growth, in particular, is one that I think is becoming rather fuzzy as time goes on (and yes, I’ll admit, Chafee having been ejected from the Senate probably helps that). And, to the extent that that continues, the more I think you’ll find fewer people falling into Freddoso’s guns, babies and taxes trinity—and so, either, the number of “true” conservatives diminishing, or the definition of conservative becoming wider.

For whatever that’s worth…


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