Two issues being hotly contested at the national level this year — government collection of private records as debated through the Patriot Act sunset provision, and the definition of marriage before the Supreme Court — distinguish conservatives from neocons and libertarians.
Those two issues also highlight why conservatism is the right blend of principles when it comes to the role of government, constitutional liberty, national defense, economic security and American exceptionalism.
The debate over the Fourth Amendment involving the “sunset” of the Patriot Act shows conservatives are better at protecting constitutional rights than neocons. In this particular debate, conservatives are more aligned with libertarians (and indeed we even may claim some credit for suggesting the sunset provision back in September 2001 before the Patriot Act was rushed through Congress without being read).
The more neocon National Review takes what we see as a dangerous, Orwellian approach in this debate, claiming that government doesn’t even need a warrant to get business records:
“Business records that are the property of a third party (namely, a telecom) do not constitute the customer’s person, house, papers, or effects. You do not have a constitutional privacy interest in property that belongs to a third party. (You may have a statutory privacy interest but I’ll come to that in due course.) Consequently, to obtain a customer’s phone records, the government is not required to secure a search warrant.”
We conservatives, on the other hand, take the Fourth Amendment more seriously, and believe that government may not obtain records of persons or businesses without a warrant signed by a neutral judge, and after a showing of probable cause that some law is violated.
Business records are, after all, private property and are protected by purposes of the Declaration of Independence and express terms in the Bill of Rights. The security of this private property protected by the Fourth Amendment against a police state and other big-government evils is what helps make America exceptional. The neocon position leaves Americans vulnerable to the greatest threat to our security and American exceptionalism: Orwellian government.
In this regard, conservatives are more aligned with libertarians. For example, libertarian think tank Cato Institute writes about this in ways nearly identical to how we’ve described it: “The communications data the [National Security Agency] is accessing belongs to the parties between whom it passes. It is not the government’s to take — not without a particularized warrant based on the requisite level of suspicion.”
The debate about the Fourth Amendment will turn on the historic reasons why we have that Bill of Rights. The Fourth Amendment came about because of government invasions on free markets, free speech, property rights and religious liberty.
Neocons rely on big-government, even despotic interpretations in this debate, and as such place free markets, free speech and religious liberty in great peril under their approach. Conservatives, on the other hand, wish to follow the Founders’ vision and the express language of the Fourth Amendment.
In the national debate over marriage, however, conservatives and libertarians tend to part ways, and neocons align with conservatives.
The libertarian view tends to favor allowing gay marriage because of the ideological view that somehow marriage limited to a man and woman is coercive or discriminatory. The “leave-us-alone” attitude that libertarians share with conservatives on government taking private property is consistent with American history, but departs from all human history when applied to marriage.
Conservatives understand that marriage between man and woman has been the core institution in every civilization in history. It is an institution older and more important than government. It is honored in every major religion. It transcends race and nationality. It is not merely favored in the Bible, it is treated as a sacred calling, and a bond with our Creator.
It is a source of joy and fulfillment. Man-woman marriage is the means of procreation and creating our progeny to live on after us. It is consistent with both evolution and creationism, and is explained by both science and religion. It is a natural, organic and biological institution that is basic to life itself.
There is no bond between human beings that is the same as marriage between a man and woman. Marriage between a man and woman is unique and irreplaceable in history, and is essential to the future of our species.
Man-woman marriage is also the foundation of the most important economic unit of the greatest economic engine in the history of the world, America. Prosperity is the fuel of our security.
Its flaws are the human condition, but it is at the core of our morality, goodness, kindness to others, understanding of the sexes, and toleration of our differences. Marriage between the sexes is a unifying, not divisive, force. It leads to greater toleration between the two halves of the population, and a better understanding of their natural-born differences. It both begins and completes our humanity.
Man-woman marriage is the glue that holds families together, and families are the basic institution that holds together our society. And without one thing — commitment — all of it unravels. It is a commitment based in Judeo-Christian values. The Founders understood that freedom comes from our Creator and, therefore, private society works best when faith governs our actions. Conservatives know that faith and these values are what make our American experiment work. That is the flaw in the approach of the more secularist libertarians.
What conservatives understand that libertarians seem to miss is that marriage between man and woman is the most liberating and equitable institution for our posterity.
Conservatives blend the better aspects of neocons and libertarians, yet, as these two debates show, have views of history that comprehend a better future for American liberty, prosperity and security.
• Richard A. Viguerie is author of “Takeover: The 100-Year War for the Soul of the GOP and How Conservatives Can Finally Win It” (WND Books, 2014). Mark Fitzgibbons is his co-author on “The Law That Governs Government: Reclaiming The Constitution From Usurpers and Society’s Biggest Lawbreaker” (ConservativeHQ.com, Inc., 2011).