Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Why We Fight--Other Republicans

Since Patterico and Clark Smith are debating pragmatism versus principle in the GOP, I’m going to try and make clear my defense of ideology over partisanship.

1. The defining loyalties of conservatives are irreversibly fixed elsewhere than government.

When conservatives acknowledge a problem, we turn to faith, or family, or the free market for solutions. We feel that they have greater worth and more lasting power than the State. We feel that a State that does not engage the great social institutions is anemic, and a State that challenges them directly is doomed.

2. Liberals are primarily political. Conservatives are indirectly political.

Because our main loyalties lie outside of government, we turn to government only when our cherished institutions seem incapable of solving problems. Our preferred method is to redefine the State so as to enable the great social institutions to succeed.
Liberals, on the other hand, desire a State that transcends irrationally independent institutions, and scheme to empower the State whenever possible.

3. A negative political vision cannot triumph.

This may seem contradictory to the first two precepts, but a government policy that merely seeks to avoid the worst outcome will never defeat a Liberal plan to manage trouble while empowering the State, or a Conservative plan that solves problems by strengthening institutions. The overwhelming majority of the electorate falls into one of those two camps.

4. Collaboration with moderates and liberals necessitates commitments to both action and inaction.

Whether tacit or explicit, vague or concrete, an exchange of votes or compensation in other political commodities, the pattern is the same: the junior partner will cooperate with the senior partner in one instance, and the senior partner will avoid mention of another point of dispute altogether.

5. When in doubt, act as agreed.

Having hammered out a positive political platform to engage and strengthen the great social institutions, conservative politicians should actively pursue its achievement, and err on the side of pursuing the greatest advantage towards the common cause in the shortest amount of time possible. Thus they avoid appearing as though indifferent, or worse, actively hostile, to the institutions that hold the deepest loyalties of the conservative electorate.

Pragmatic Republican partisanship challenges every one of these precepts.
It asks deficit-hawks to be patient and tolerant as their concerns are totally ignored.
It tells pro-life Republicans to consider the cost to the Party of a fulfilled pro-life agenda.
It is beginning to frame its best argument, national defense, in negative terms of Democratic incapability.
It seeks wider collusion with moderates without reckoning the increasing number of awkward issues that must be avoided in the name of the Big Tent.
It considers the party platform essential to winning elections and disposable when governing.

So long as the backbone of the GOP is conservatism, and it is likely to stay that way for a long, long time to come, the pragmatists are playing with dynamite.

We’ve won a workable majority in the federal government. The pragmatists are not happy with it; they envision even larger majorities. But to what purpose? The justification of politics, to conservatives, lies outside politics. An eternal majority for the sake of blocking out the opposition does not motivate us.

Arlen Specter openly discussed thwarting the majority of the party towards his own views. It was outrageous to conservatives that any Republican would so abuse the hard-won majority. What truly shocked us was how many GOP leaders insisted that there was nothing outrageous at all. Specter made the mistake of overestimating the promise of inaction on abortion by the GOP leadership. He had to cover the overdraft with active promises of cooperation. Whether he has learnt a lesson, or whether the GOP will hold him to his word, has yet to be seen.

An Everest guide cannot halt halfway up and expect gratitude for avoiding a catastrophic fall. The conservatives in the GOP demand we make summit, and that is our measure of success or failure.


clark smith said...

Thank you for your response to my post A Message to "The School of Principled Republicans." I've linked to your post there.

In addition to reading my post, your readers will also want to check out the post that started it all, Patterico's A Review of Hugh Hewitt's Latest BookI hope to respond to your post shortly.

Thanks again,

Anonymous said...

I've got my take up here on Interocitor, and it links back here.

Jeff said...

As an independent, I think the Republicans are overplaying their hand. Specter is a liberal Republican from one of the most Democratic states in the union. Would they rather that seat go to a liberal Dem?

They seem to be following the lead of the famously inept California Republicans, aka Barbara Boxer's Best Friends, who always pick ideology over electability. Let's not forget that were it left to them, Gray Davis or Bustamante would be governor, since the Cal Republican Party couldn't stand liberal Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger (the face of 21st Century politics, socially liberal, hawkish on defense, fiscal conservative).

Americans aren't red or blue, they're purple: polls have long shown clear majority support for both the death penalty AND limited abortion rights. If the Republicans overplay their hand, they get points for integrity, but they'll lose badly at the ballot. They should read up on Churchill to see just how much loyalty national defense gets you

jeff at beautifulatrocities dot com

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