Civic Conservatism Card Is Waiting on the Table
From the February 13, 2007, Washington Examiner
February 13, 2007
by John Fonte
The internal argument among conservatives appears to be stuck between two forces: economic (fiscal) conservatives and social (faith) conservatives. Lately, fiscal conservatives and faith conservatives have been exchanging barbs. Have some social conservatives become advocates for big government? Are some economic conservatives indifferent to core societal institutions such as marriage?
The two blocs are also sizing up potential 2008 presidential candidates. The language is familiar: Guiliani, McCain, Gingrich, Romney, Brownback, Hunter, Huckabee, Hagel, Gilmore, and Tancredo, where do they stand on: cutting taxes and spending, right to life, gay marriage?
In the past, both fiscal and faith conservatives have been flag conservatives as well. Since the days of Barry Goldwater, patriotic support for a strong national defense has been part of a “fusionist” conservative coalition.
For about 40 years, this meant anti-communism. Since Sept. 11, anti-Islamist terrorism has come to the fore. During the Vietnam War, there were conservative disagreements over the proper strategy for victory, notably a strong “win or get out” attitude. Today, history is repeating itself as many conservatives ask: why were the army and marines held back from cleaning out the bad guys in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Sadr City? There will be plenty of questions for the 2008 candidates on Iraq, Iran, and the war on Islamist terror at home and abroad, and rightly so. But I suggest that while the issues of the economic conservatives, social conservatives and national defense conservative are absolutely necessary, they are not completely sufficient. We need more answers still. Where do the candidates stand on civic conservative issues?
By civic conservatism I mean an emphasis on the Unum in E Pluribus Unum; on American unity over diversity; on equality of American citizenship over ethnic, racial or gender group preferences; on the melting pot model of immigrant assimilation over the multicultural mosaic; and on an affirmation of American constitutional sovereignty over any “evolving” definitions of international law.
Let us be clear, many civic conservatives would also be economic and social conservatives who favor a strong national defense. Thus, “civic conservatism” is not a replacement for other types of conservatism, but a supplement to the coalition.
Civic conservatives are appalled that the U.S. Senate with the support of many Republicans may soon pass a “native” Hawaiian bill that will establish a racially-based separatist sovereign government.
They also ask why the Bush administration endorses official multilingualism by continuing to implement President Clinton’s Executive Order 13166 that requires all government documents to be published in multiple languages.
Civic conservatives would agree with a leading Latino politician, former New York City deputy mayor and congressman, Herman Badillo (the original sponsor of bilingual education legislation) that bilingual education and bilingual voting are failed ideas whose time has long past.
Civic conservatives believe that the Oath of Renunciation and Allegiance that new citizens take to the United States means what it says and that, therefore, immigrants who are naturalized American citizens should not continue to vote and run for political office (as some do) in their birth nations. Civic conservatives might disagree on immigration policy, with some supporting the president’s plan, others the conservative Republicans in Congress, but they would be united in strong support for the patriotic assimilation of immigrants, what we once called (and should call again) “Americanization.”
The language and issues of a civic conservatism that emphasizes “One America” have broad popular support. They appeal to many Democrats and “civic liberals” uneasy with narrow special interest politics. One suspects that this is part of the reason for Barack Obama’s early rise. He is viewed by many (whether correctly or not) as a potential “One America” candidate. Several years ago, the respected Public Agenda poll revealed that by a margin of 79 percent to 18 percent, parents believed that schools should emphasize “pride in and learning about America” over learning about and “pride in one’s own ethnic heritage.” Hispanic parents by 80 percent to 17 percent preferred “pride in America” to Latino ethnic studies. By 65 percent to 26 percent, Americans believed that our schools should “help new immigrants absorb America’s language and culture as quickly as possible, even if their native language and culture are neglected.
The recent elections in November 2006 resulted in two big victories for civic conservatism. Michigan by 58 percent rejected racial and gender preferences and Arizona by 74 percent rejected bilingualism and made English the official language. About half the state’s Hispanics supported the measure.
The civic conservative card is on the 2008 presidential table waiting to be picked up. It might give some future president a winning hand.
John Fonte is a Senior Fellow and Director of Hudson's Center for American Common Culture.