We’ve all heard someone say it. We’ve all seen a member of our generation or the next, afraid to be grouped in with their conservative grandparents, hold their heads high and say confidently, as if it is the answer to all questions, “Actually, I’m socially liberal and fiscally conservative.” Woah! Where shall we set up the shrine? A republican that maintains the fiscal “efficiency” but does not spit on gay people! Why, this is what we’ve been waiting for! Not so fast.
What people that tout this as the superior political alignment neglect to understand is that being socially liberal means much more than tolerating gay marriage and not wishing to burn Planned Parenthood to the ground. Being socially liberal means understanding that poverty is not a choice but rather an almost unbreakable cycle that, for the most part, afflicts those unlucky enough to be born into it; it means truly believing that everyone should have access to affordable health care, quality public schools, and opportunities for upward mobility no matter the tax bracket they were born into. It certainly does not mean bragging about your social tolerance and liberalism just to vote for officials aiming to undermine or dismantle those beneficial institutions you claim to be in support of.
I’m not arguing that being fiscally conservative is illegitimate in any way – there certainly are government inefficiencies that “waste” tax dollars, or divert them to areas of the government that are arguably unnecessary. The “fiscal conservatives” being elected to state legislatures and the federal government are not concerned with this, though. I was able to see firsthand the effects of fiscal conservatism when North Carolina’s state legislature often cut spending for public schools in order to reduce taxes throughout my eight years in public schools. I watched my teachers, already receiving some of the worst pay in the country, buy school supplies out of their own paycheck in an attempt to keep students, at-risk students especially, engaged in school.
Thus, my problem with the “social liberals, fiscal conservatives” is not the fact that they’re fiscally conservative. Everyone is entitled to their own political ideology and their own personal desire for where they want their money to go. However, “socially liberal” and “fiscally conservative” just cannot exist in the same realm when one truly adheres to the actual definition of socially liberal. It is all well and good to be pro-gay marriage and pro-choice and an advocate for women’s rights. But that’s a fraction of social liberalism. In 2017’s America, it goes so much further – into health care, the prison system, police brutality, federal funding of Planned Parenthood, immigration, refugee entry, and much, much more. If you’re unwilling to accept and support all the facets of the stance, then question whether or not it is really fair for you to claim it.
If you’re socially liberal, then why would you support the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act that provided health coverage to tens of millions of Americans previously unable to afford it? If you’re socially liberal, then why would you vote for officials previously proven and consistently amenable to passing and carrying out legislation that undermines Social Security, keeps the minimum wage egregiously low, de-regulates business, allows employers to offer few benefits to their employees, reduces taxes for the wealthy under the tired guise of trickle-down, and perpetuates the cycle of poverty that makes the United States the paradise of inequality that many would argue it is?
In my view, these “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” people are trying to have their cake and eat it too. They want to claim the liberal tenets of tolerance, acceptance, and humanity without actually having to pay for it. It’s pretty easy to abstractly support the liberal side of social issues because to members of our progressive-leaning generation, they’re widely accepted. Unfortunately, maintaining a fair society with equal opportunity and basic human rights for everyone requires a great amount of money. Even more unfortunately, that money simply does not exist with a flat tax, or other fiscally conservative ideals due to simple lack of government revenue (CNBC).
It’s troubling to me that so many young people could be convinced that it’s enough to just profess support for something without actually believing in the means necessary to achieve it, but I also understand that a lot of people hold strong conservative values, passed down from their family or otherwise. I understand that they want to reconcile these beliefs with the more progressive values of our generation as a whole, but I would challenge all young people to really question what is more important to them: their own fiscal benefit or the social good that they claim to hold so dearly. Perhaps a more apt way for many young people to describe themselves would be “fiscally conservative, but, like two steps ahead of my Grandpa on social issues.”