The lingering GOP support for social engineering

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), a former senator in his first year as governor, still complains quite a bit about federal spending. Brownback has even rejected health care funds to help communities reduce chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. It’s a simple political game — the governor doesn’t like federal spending, doesn’t like a federal role in health care, and would rather turn down the money than combat the diseases.

Notice, however, when Brownback and his administration are willing to make exceptions.

The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services is seeking $2.2 million a year for three years to pay for counseling that encourages unwed parents to marry. Free marriage licenses would be given to those who do.

State officials portrayed the grant request as the state’s first major marriage initiative aimed at reducing child poverty.

In giving up the $31 million, the governor said that every state should prepare for less federal cash, given that so many questions are swirling about government spending.

So why ask for marriage money?

Because Brownback’s principles are malleable, not consistent. When it comes to health care for struggling Kansans, the governor believes in less public spending and smaller government. It’s about fiscal responsibility and keeping DC out of individuals’ lives. When it comes to marriage-promotion programs, the governor believes in more public spending and bigger government. It’s an issue that Brownback cares about, so concerns about fiscal responsibility and keeping DC out of individuals’ lives are easily put aside.

Granted, this isn’t entirely new ground for the far-right Republican. In 2006, Brownback spearheaded a federal initiative that literally paid low-income couples to tie the knot — he called the money “marriage bonuses” — giving them federal funds to help buy a home, pay for education, or start a business.

This is, in other words, consistent with Brownback’s philosophy.

But GOP politics have changed since 2006 and I’m curious about the extent to which conservatives support Brownback’s request. We are, after all, talking about federal grants to pay for marriage counseling and marriage licenses in Kansas. Is this what Tea Partiers had in mind?

More to the point, I can’t help but laugh when I think of congressional Republicans who accuse Democrats of supporting “social engineering.” The right is supposed to be offended, at a fundamental level, by the idea of using federal spending to alter how people can and will behave. It’s supposed to be anathema for anyone who values “limited” government.

Folks, when a state seeks federal funds to finance local marriage counseling and marriage licenses, that’s pretty much the definition of social engineering.