That’s the money line from tonight’s Fox News “12 in ’12” presidential profile; skip ahead to 3:00 if you don’t want to watch it all. He made this same point, albeit in a more elaborate way, at the Values Voter Summit in September. Let me gently suggest that this bumper-sticker version is doing him no favors, since it can’t help but alienate every last libertarian who sees it. His idea, as explained in greater detail at the VVS, is that God and government are forever jockeying for position as moral beacons in the public’s imagination. The bigger government gets, the smaller God gets, and vice versa, so if you’re eager to shrink state bureaucracy and promote self-reliance, expect people to react by looking elsewhere for moral guidance — like, say, back to traditional Judeo-Christian values. Thus are all fiscal cons also social cons, whether wittingly or not. And in fairness, that idea isn’t completely out of left field: There is indeed a relationship between God and government in the average person’s mind, although the touchstone is security, not morality. The less stable a government is, apparently, the more one turns to faith for reassurance that everything will be okay. The universe requires order and one or the other will provide it psychologically. (The U.S. is a notable exception to the either/or rule.) Which makes me wonder, how many fiscal cons support shrinking government because it means greater freedom for its own sake and how many support it simply as a means of moving people over to a different security blanket that they prefer?
Originally, I thought this message was just something DeMint was pitching at Christian conservatives to convince them that the tea party’s libertarianism is overblown, that they’re still a cherished constituency despite the reordering of conservative priorities to favor spending over “values.” But now I think he means it, which makes me wonder. For instance, last I checked, Glenn Beck’s a fiscal conservative (and notably a fan of the idea of Americans turning back to God) but also … fine with gay marriage. DeMint himself, however, is not: He told Al Hunt last year that neither the feds nor state governments should have the power to legalize same-sex unions. Per his God/government dynamic, I would think he’d support getting government out of the marriage business altogether and trusting in Judeo-Christian morals to handle this problem, but he still supports state recognition of traditional marriage as far as I can tell. Likewise with his comments about how gays and unwed mothers don’t belong in the classroom. Said GOProud’s founder Chris Barron of that, “The idea that someone who says they believe in limited government would support the government weeding out gay teachers and unmarried sexually active female teachers simply defies logic.” So maybe our error here is in assuming that when DeMint says “fiscal conservatism,” he means it as a byword for “less government” universally. Maybe government that works to reinforce Judeo-Christian values is fine. I guess, like Mitch McConnell, we all have our exceptions to the master plan.