Does Social Conservatism Explain Opposition to the Bailout?


According to a New York Times "news analysis," Monday's House vote against the Wall Street bailout "captured just how much the Republican Party has changed from its 19th-century roots as the party of business and economic stewardship." Reporter Jackie Calmes continues:

The party's base has shifted to the more socially conservative and populist South and West, and away from its historic roots in the Northeast, including Wall Street. House Republicans, most of them in districts purposely drawn to be packed with like-minded conservative voters, reflect that shift.*

While opposition to a taxpayer-funded bailout of Wall Street fat cats clearly has a populist aspect to it, I'm not sure what role social conservatism plays. Weirdly, Calmes does not mention anti-statism or free market principles as a motivation for Republican opponents of the bill, although she closes her piece by quoting the Brookings Institution's Thomas Mann, who says, "This is a function of a group of House Republicans who are philosophically opposed to doing anything like this bailout." The philosophical opposition to which Mann alludes is not rooted in populism or social conservatism.

Calmes is right to call the 19th-century GOP "the party of business and economic stewardship," if by that she means to suggest that the party of Lincoln was more inclined toward economic intervention than the party of Reagan, and in certain respects more pro-business than pro-market. The most conspicuous example of the Republican Party's departure from laissez faire was its support for high tariffs, a policy that is pro-business in the sense that it benefits certain domestic businesses but certainly not pro-market. Protectionism does have a populist appeal, however, and it seems implausible that increasing populism explains the GOP's embrace of free trade, or of free market economics generally. In short, I'm not sure what Calmes is driving at here, unless she is simply insinuating that opponents of the bailout are backward, insular, and irrational.

[*This is the text as it appears in my copy of the paper; the online version is somewhat different.]