In the aftermath of the 2008 Republican electoral bloodbath, many are discussing what direction the party should take to recapture its vitality and viability. Liberals -- as if they have the best interests of the GOP at heart -- and so-called elitist, Northeastern Republicans seem to agree the party should tack center. I disagree.
Traditional conservatism and its advocates invariably get bad raps. They're painted as uncompromising, uncompassionate extremists who won't adjust to the realities of the 21st century.
But those familiar with modern history understand that these intramural debates have been going on for decades. I remember my father complaining about Rockefeller Republicans in the early '60s, so the schism had to have begun much earlier than that.
From what I can gather, the David Brooks and David Frum wing of the conservative movement wants conservatism to grow, sort of like liberals want the Constitution to be a "living document." Big government -- at least, an active, energetic government -- is here to stay, and we better get on board. Our debate with liberals must be one of minor degree rather than kind. We should accept, rather than resist or attempt to roll back, the leviathan and instead address how best to direct it, lest we relegate ourselves to political irrelevance.
We traditionalists should acknowledge that in one sense, the Davids have a point. After all, it was no less a traditionalist than Mark Steyn, if I may categorize him as such, who recently lamented that "settled democratic societies rarely vote to 'go left.' Yet oddly enough that's where they've all gone."
I think Steyn is merely expressing the paradox that democratic societies are difficult to sustain in the spirit of the oft-stated axiom -- attributed to a half-dozen people -- that a "democracy" would last until people figured out they could vote themselves money from the public treasury. Benjamin Franklin offered a similar admonition when a woman asked him to describe the form of government the Framers had just crafted: "A republic, madam, if you can keep it."
This, I think, gets to the very heart of the rub between the traditionalists and the Davids. The Framers designed a scheme of limited government because they believed that such was the best -- or the least worst -- avenue to maximizing individual liberty. They believed that though man has a yearning to be free, his fallen human condition militates against freedom for society as a whole, absent mechanisms in place to check the natural and clearly established historical tendency of man toward absolutism.