Something is missing in all the intramural debates among different stripes of Republicans this primary season. Bigger-government Republicans don't seem fully to appreciate the extent to which the differences between conservative Republicans and liberals are about more than policy.
Conservatives and liberals differ not merely over the level of taxation, protection of the unborn, immigration, the war and other issues -- though the importance of these disputes cannot easily be overstated.
Admittedly, conservatives view these policy differences as matters of great urgency. The power to tax is the power to destroy. Abortion kills human beings. Illegal, unregulated immigration jeopardizes our national security, undermines the rule of law, could bankrupt our government and, because of the negligence concerning proper assimilation, would likely radically change the culture. Successful prosecution of the war on terror, in Iraq and elsewhere, is essential to our national security.
But at an even more fundamental level, conservatives, being sentimental saps, believe -- apparently unlike Michelle Obama -- that the United States is not only the greatest nation in the world but also that it owes its greatness largely to its Constitution.
Even if liberals were to concede this point, they would probably have different reasons for believing it is so. They tout their fondness for the Bill of Rights and little else in the document, but even here, close inspection reveals their affinity is selective.
They're definitely all about the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures -- to such an extreme that they would extend it to non-citizen enemy combatants. They also surely fashion themselves as Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendment enthusiasts, with their due process, witness confrontation, jury trial, double jeopardy, self-incrimination and cruel-and-unusual punishment provisions.
But their support gets murkier when it comes to the First, Second, Ninth and 10th Amendments. They revere the Establishment Clause but are less enamored of the Free Exercise Clause. They consider themselves free-speech watchdogs but love campus speech codes, the Fairness Doctrine, campaign-finance reform laws and classroom indoctrination. And I've never heard a liberal wax proudly about federalism or the erosion of states' rights that has accompanied its dilution.
Conservatives, by contrast, not only champion the Bill of Rights -- the complete package -- but also believe Americans owe our unique liberties to the scheme of governmental power established in the body of the Constitution.