Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Social conservatives vs. Market conservatives

The second term of a US President whose party controls the US Congress is always fun to watch.  The easy wins, the ones where all loyalists agree, have been won; items  remaining on the agenda are potentially divisive.

The strain is beginning to show at the FCC, for example.  Kevin Martin, the President’s loyal Chairman, intends to limit “indecency” on cable TV.  According to Slate, “he has been quietly meeting with religious activists and industry leaders to organize a push for new standards for broadcast, cable and satellite television”.  This is family values politics, one of the mainstays of the Republican party.

The other mainstay is laissez faire markets, and the business lobby is beginning to grumble.  Adam Thierer worries on the PFF blog that Chairman Martin & Co’s attempts to rethink regulation in the context of media convergence “level the playing field in the direction of less freedom of speech instead of more.” He continues, “The problem with this "regulate up" solution to the level playing field problem is that it means almost any type of speech or media outlet in the future will be fair game for regulators.”  Market conservatives hate few things more (taxes, say) than government regulation of industry.

More contests are coming between the social and fiscal wings of the Republican party.  One can only achieve far-reaching social goals, eg on abortion, speech content, and codes of behavior, through far-reaching regulation.  However, such regulation goes against the grain for small-government conservatives.  A likely flash-point: States’ rights.  Republicans have for historical reasons (eg the New Deal) resented federal intrusion in states’ autonomy to act in ways conservatives prefer.  However, this preference may well fade once the Right wants to impose its vision on the whole country, just as the Left did 80 years ago.