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Social conservatism and the limits of its political relevance

Social conservatism and the limits of its political relevance

Fred Birnbaum
April 11, 2017
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April 11, 2017

The Idaho Freedom Foundation sometimes hears from the public and members of the Legislature that our Freedom Index ratings of legislative votes are not comprehensive enough because we avoid some issues that are generally described as social issues: abortion, gay marriage, and matters related to gambling and pornography.

In fact, IFF does review legislation related to these topics when there is overlap with other issues we cover. For example, a private business, a movie theatre, was cited for serving alcohol, for which it had a license, while showing an R-rated movie - a violation of Idaho statute due to a nude scene in the film. After a lawsuit where the theatre claimed its First Amendment rights were violated, the legislature addressed this issue with a bill described as the “liquor-nudity” bill. This bill passed with support from 94 percent of the members of the Legislature and, yes, IFF did give the bill a positive rating on its Freedom Index.

That bill could be described as an exception to IFF’s purported lack of social issue involvement, but a much larger point is being missed. During the 2017 legislative session, there were more than 500 bills printed and over 700 pieces of legislation, when you include resolutions, joint memorials, etc. How many bills could broadly be described as social issue bills, less than 5 percent? Yes, after reviewing the actual bills only about 25 bills covered the topics of abortion, tobacco usage, alcohol, religion, gambling, and homosexuality. I am not arguing that this number should be higher or lower: I merely point out that some 95 percent of what the legislature chooses to engage in are not social issues.

The relevant point is that the choice to declare oneself a social conservative is perfectly legitimate and well within the conservative tradition. However it is insufficient as it does not address 95 percent of what the legislature acts on, nor does it address the enormous growth of government on the fiscal side.

The Legislature appropriated a general fund spending increase that was more than 9 percent greater than last year’s budget. Anyone who is in the conservative camp and is not troubled by the fact that state government is growing about twice as fast as the general economy should reflect on what being a conservative really means.

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