Small Government Theocons? Ctd

by Brendan James

A reader writes:

Concerning this post, I think you and Ed Kilgore are talking past each other.  Ed’s talking about the Religious Right; you’re talking about “young evangelicals.”  Not exactly the same thing—indeed, the young evangelicals you’re speaking of seem to be moving away from the Right, or at least modifying it to accommodate what is now clearly a cause as lost as keeping evangelicals from divorcing.

But if you focus on, say, the Tea Party, as Ed does, it’s apparent that the persistent efforts of some clueless pundits to characterize it as a “libertarian” movement miss the point.  It’s not the deficit these people are concerned with; after all, where were they in the oughts?  They’re concerned, as ever, with the federal government taking stuff away from deserving folk like themselves and giving it to undeserving folk like the poor, or the uninsured, or parasitic elites in academia, the bureaucracy, etc.

And for them this is a moral cause; that Obama is in the business of taking from the “right” people and giving to the “wrong” ones isn’t a policy disagreement, it’s proof of his moral perfidy.  That they are utterly clueless about the federal budget and the fact that they are major beneficiaries of federal redistribution policies makes it all the easier for them to strike this self-righteous pose; there’s no “libertarianism” for them if it touches “their” Medicare.  It really is the culture war by another means.

I understand this point, that libertarianism and Christianism are not a priori incompatible (even if it requires some slippery semantics) and so a rise in the former need not lead to perestroika. But the fact is that evangelicals are the core of the religious right, and if the next generation is becoming libertarian on social matters like marriage—we could talk about drugs as well—that’s a big problem for the old guard that organizes much of the base around cultural paranoia. If this generational shift continues, how small is the Christian Right’s tent going to shrink before they lack the clout Kilgore and the rest of us are worried about?