[JK’s concluding point] misses what’s disturbing about the potential rebirth of Social Gospelism on the right, particularly in the form of Mike Huckabee’s compassionate conservatism with better bible quotes. If the Christian right — diverse though it may be — starts to become more sympathetic to using activist government as a instrument to impose God’s teachings — or one interpretation of them — then the largest and most reliable voting bloc in the Republican Party will become merely rightwing progressives, using government at all levels to do what they think is good, regardless of whether it’s constitutional or federalist or liberal in the classical sense. Huckabee’s support for a national federal ban on workplace and/or public smoking should be very scary to believers in limited government. Huckabee’s economic populism, likewise, is not a good omen. And the fact that Huckabee is popular in this "everybody’s doing it" climate is not reassuring in the least.
Let me try to make, inadequately, the more complicated point I didn’t have time to make yesterday. I take it as given that, in practical political terms, we can’t--or should want to--zero out all the government programs put into place since the New Deal. I agree with this argument and this argument, in other words. (Thanks, Julie.)
But the dismantling of "superfluous" government doesn’t take place in a political, moral, or cultural vacuum. The question is how to cultivate the characters who are willing to stand on their own and the civil society that can foster and support them. Cultivating the conditions of self-reliance and voluntary engagement with widows and orphans was--is?--the overarching purpose of "compassionate conservatism, properly understood."
Jonah’s right that this position can easily morph into something else--morally conservative Social Gospelism or (what we saw from all too many Congressional Republicans in the past few years) a license for politically motivated porkbarreling (for which Tom DeLay is the poster child).
Can such degeneration be avoided? I’m not sure, though if the alternative is an also easily vulgarized libertarianism that is indifferent to the social, cultural, and moral conditions of responsible liberty, I think I know which poison I’ll pick.
In the meantime, I’ll muddle through, encouraging respect for the Constitution and its limits and reminding everyone that "[w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being," which I regard as shorthand for the argument that our constitution can function well only on certain moral, social, and cultural presuppositions, which need shoring up after having been under assault for the past few decades.