TCS Daily


South Park in the Blue States

By John Tabin - September 25, 2003 12:00 AM

"I feel the people of California have been punished enough. From the time they get up in the morning and flush the toilet, they're taxed. When they go get a coffee, they're taxed. When they get in their car, they're taxed. When they go to the gas station, they're taxed. When they go to lunch, they're taxed. This goes on all day long. Tax. Tax. Tax. Tax. Tax." -- Arnold Schwarzenegger

By the time Mr. Schwarzenegger had spoken those words last month, he'd already been denounced as a liberal by conservatives from
National Review to Rush Limbaugh to the American Prowler.

Part of the reason for this is that on most cultural issues, Schwarzenegger is a liberal. But California is a culturally liberal state; though conservatives' purist instincts run deep, that can't by itself explain the animus toward Schwarzenegger. Nor were those conservatives reacting to the
foolishness of Schwarzenegger-confidante Warren "Tax My Life, Please!" Buffett; their critiques started before that kerfuffle (which Schwarzenegger's anti-tax noises were, of course, meant to scuttle.)

I think instead that conservatives' suspicions toward Arnold come from their dealings with the self-proclaimed moderates within the Republican Party. As National Review's Jonah Goldberg put it in 2001, "I don't think you necessarily have to be pro-life to be a good conservative, but I do find that once people become pro-choice they tend to be less reliably conservative on all sorts of issues." Taxes are certainly one of those issues. When people talk about "Rockefeller Republicans," after all, they're invoking the New York governor who first introduced state sales and income taxes.

But must they be? Larry Sabato, among other political analysts,
argues that the 2000 Red vs. Blue map is enduring because of "hot button social issues" -- culture, in other words. He does not argue that Blue-staters enjoy paying taxes more. And a look at the Blue states reveals a number of prominent Republicans who are in tune on social issues with their cultural liberal states, but nonetheless take seriously Bob Novak's proclamation that "the only reason God put Republicans on this Earth was to cut taxes."

When Robert Ehrlich of Maryland became the first Republican governor to sign a bill relaxing penalties for medical marijuana last May, he noted that "there are clearly two wings of the party on social issues. One is more conservative, and one is more libertarian. I belong to the latter, and I always have." Ehrlich's signature political fight is libertarian on both the social and economic front: He wants to legalize slot-machines (which could equal a revenue-infusion for the state of up to $800 million), while his antagonists in the legislature prefer a tax increase -- which Ehrlich has vetoed.

Ehrlich is hardly the only socially liberal Republican with a true commitment to the GOP's economic philosophy. Take Linda Lingle. The first Republican governor of Hawaii in forty years, she's far to the left of the national GOP on social issues, though slightly to the right of her Democratic opponents: she's pro-choice but supports a parental notification law; she favors the state's same-sex domestic partnership provision but opposes outright gay marriage; she's against the death penalty but says that if support is strong in the legislature she wouldn't veto a bill to reinstate capital punishment for the murder of a minor who has been sexually assaulted. Though none of this is particularly remarkable in the Aloha State, Lingle would of course be seen as a flaming liberal in much of the Republic. Except for one thing: Lingle is one of only eight governors who has signed the Americans for Tax Reform
pledge to never raise taxes.

Two other Blue State governors have also signed the ATR pledge. One is John Rowland of Connecticut, who's pro-choice and has signed a domestic partnership bill into law. Though both Rowland and his legislature are now rather unpopular thanks to the Nutmeg State's budget stand-off, Rowland's anti-tax pledge has served him well in the past; he's now in his third term. The other is Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota. Pawlenty is a bit more socially conservative than the other governors I've mentioned (though he was still to the left of his Republican primary opponent), and was blessed in 2002 to face, in addition to his Democratic opponent, a formidable Independence Party challenge by former-Democrat Tim Penny; Pawlenty would have had a much tougher time winning statewide in a two-way race. But Minnesota's third-party politics can't by itself explain why Walter Mondale's state narrowly edges out South Carolina for the highest percentage of state legislators who have signed the ATR pledge.

Some readers are no doubt wondering now about one nagging issue, so lets get to it: though none of these low-tax liberals is a crusader for the Second Amendment, they can generally be characterized as moderately pro-gun; the National Rifle Association Scores for Ehrlich, Lingle, Rowland, and Pawlenty are B, B, A, and A respectively. Anti-gun political assaults have mostly failed to stick to them, particularly in Ehrlich's case. Schwarzenegger is the outlier on this issue; he told Larry Elder "I think that people should have the right to bear arms," but has gotten specific only on gun regulations he'd support (background checks, an assault-weapon ban, trigger locks "under certain circumstances"), not on those he'd oppose.

It's been argued here at TCS that there exists a constituency of culturally liberal
South Park Republicans. It's clear that in the Blue States, there exist politicians with corresponding attitudes -- and equally clear that they succeed by sticking to the economic principles that characterize the GOP at its best.

John Tabin is a Baltimore-based freelance writer who's website is JohnTabin.com.

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