Jonah Goldberg

Goldwater went to Tennessee to blast the Tennessee Valley Authority, God bless him. That was like going to a brothel to denounce prostitution, or to Iowa to denounce ethanol — but I repeat myself. He carried only six states in the 1964 presidential election.

Liberals have an inherent advantage. As long as they promise incremental, “pragmatic” expansions of the government, voters generally give them a pass. And every new expansion since FDR and the New Deal has created a constituency for continued government largesse.

If Hillary Clinton promised to socialize medicine — which, let the record show, she has attempted to do in the past — she would lose. But her current campaign promise to simply expand coverage sounds reasonable enough — even though there’s no reason to think she’ll stop pushing for a national single-payer health-care system (a.k.a. socialized medicine).

“Liberals sell the welfare state one brick at a time, deflecting inquiries about the size and cost of the palace they’re building,” writes William Voegeli in an illuminating essay, “The Trouble with Limited Government,” in the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books.

Committed conservatives, meanwhile, find themselves at a disadvantage: They advocate smaller government for everybody — when Americans generally (including most Republicans) want smaller government for everybody but themselves.

Some conservatives respond to this dilemma with an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” shrug. If voters don’t embrace limited government — which really just means self-government — then have them choose between a big government that does right-wing things and one that does left-wing things. Some of those people are called “compassionate conservatives.” Others seek comfort in the soothing irrelevance of purism and adopt libertarian candidates and causes that will never, ever win at the ballot box.

But there is another course for conservatives: Simply do what you can, where you can, including supporting the most conservative candidate who can win and succeed in office.

Meanwhile, writes Voegeli, it “makes sense for conservatives to attack liberalism where it is weakest, rather than where it is strongest.” Unlike the utopianisms of the left, conservatism is defined by an understanding that this life can never be made perfect. So you state your ideals and then you compromise when life gives you no other choice. Pry free the bricks you can, loosen the ones you can’t, and make peace with the ones you can’t budge, until you can.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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