The Susan B. Anthony List is dedicated to electing pro-life female candidates. They’re wrapping up a very good year. Ann Marie Buerkle just accepted the concession of her Democrat opponent, Dan Maffei, to become the Republican representative from New York’s 25th congressional district.
This is the 37th win for the Susan B. Anthony List in the midterm elections. It didn’t come easy. Maffei was an incumbent with a gigantic fundraising advantage. The Susan B. Anthony List says they mailed 23,000 households on Buerkle’s campaign, and bundled almost $24,000 in donations, but Maffei still outspent her by a huge margin. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Steven Moore calls the Buerkle victory “one of the biggest election surprises of the year.” Moore recalls a September column from E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post which declared, “Absent a Republican wave of historic proportions, [Maffei’s] seat now seems out of the GOP’s reach.”
Buerkle is an outsider candidate with extensive private-sector experience. She has spent her life beneath the crushing weight of tax and regulation dropped on small businesses. Her website describes her as a “nurse and accomplished attorney,” which means she can bring a lot to the table when discussing the repeal of ObamaCare, one of her signature issues. Her pro-life credentials include a family of six children and eleven grandchildren, scattered across America in pursuit of opportunity. That’s right: she earned degrees in both nursing and law while raising six kids. Remember that the next time someone tells you abortion is the only way for women to retain control of their lives, and fulfill their ambitions.
How can all these pro-life women be winning elections? That’s supposed to be as unlikely as the very existence of articulate pro-life women. They’re not just winning electoral victories. Polls consistently show growing acceptance of the pro-life position, especially among young people. This is especially remarkable when you consider the pro-life position is essentially illegal. It takes the “wrong” side of an argument supposedly settled by raw judicial power, decades ago. It’s relentlessly mocked in the popular culture, which very rarely includes positive depictions of pro-lifers – routinely portrayed as religious fanatics, or the broken wives of fanatics. If a TV show includes both a pro-lifer and a murder, the odds are high that the latter will turn out to be the work of the former.
There is much debate about the tension between fiscal and social conservatism these days. Such debate never really goes away, but it rises in volume immediately before and after elections. The success of the Susan B. Anthony List illuminates a long-standing conviction of mine: the causes of both fiscal and social conservatism are inextricably tied to the cause of liberty.
What we refer to as “fiscal conservatism” is the practical expression of liberty. Social conservatism is, at heart, its moral expression. It is the resistance of free people to the transformative agenda of the collective. Social conservatives are very persuasive, because their ideas are largely consistent with the natural moral instincts of Americans. How many pro-lifers have been born when a man holds his own child for the first time? In my case, it happened when I held my sister’s baby girl. There are more where she came from, waiting to join us in maternity wards across the land. I want to meet them.
Social conservatives will always be frustrated and disappointed when they use the power of the State to compel acceptance of their beliefs, because so many of their beliefs run contrary to the interests of the State. The traditional marriages and families venerated by the Right are very inconvenient to community organizers. Political power comes from transformation, not affirmation. Those who believe they can use the Big Government machine to construct a socially conservative society will always find, to their sorrow, that the Machine doesn’t work that way.
It is true that government programs always have a moral dimension. They have great power to transform targeted populations… but always in ruinous ways. Look at any group the Great Society purported to help, and compare their current condition to what they were like forty years ago. Power breed dependence, and that never sanctified anyone. Unfortunate people have been raised up by charity, and laid low by entitlement. The difference is that charity is voluntary.
It would take immense coercive force to completely outlaw abortion. There are too many people who are generally sympathetic to the pro-life cause, but will not deny the regretful necessity of the procedure in extreme cases. On the other hand, a woefully underfunded candidate from New York, who used to be a spokeswoman for Operation Rescue, just defeated a powerful incumbent who voted in favor of a health-care scheme that would include taxpayer funding of abortions. Our government has strayed far from anything resembling the moral consensus of free people. America is not finished conducting a debate that Roe vs. Wade presumed to resolve by fiat.
Social conservatives become understandably angry when told they should shut up about their issues, because they’ll scare “moderate” voters away. It’s equally understandable that Senator Jim DeMint’s assertion that “you can’t be a fiscal conservative without being a social conservative” provoked outrage. I wouldn’t presume to have any easy answers to such a serious debate, but I hope neither side thinks it belittles their concerns to suggest they are both served best by dismantling an overbearing government whose ambitions run equally contrary to theirs. Freshman Republican representative Ann Marie Buerkle would seem to agree.
Update: Representative Buerkle is actually the 37th win for the Susan B. Anthony list in this election cycle. I misinterpreted a press report earlier in describing her as the eighth. Thanks to Kerry Brown, communications director for the Susan B. Anthony list, for sending me the correct information! I have made the appropriate correction to the essay.