We conservatives are having one of our grand, knock-down, drag-out fights over the future of conservatism and the GOP. Should conservatives compromise on gay marriage or abortion rights? Should we jump on the environmental bandwagon? Are there ways to reform health care without abandoning our principles? What would Reagan do? What would William F. Buckley think? Would the Founding Fathers cry like that American Indian in the old anti-litter commercial?
Frankly, I love these arguments. I think they are healthy and good for conservatism and the country. One of the things I love about conservatives is that we have these internal debates more often than the Five Families went to war in "The Godfather."
The mainstream perception that conservatives are close-minded and dogmatic while liberals are open-minded and free-thinking has it almost exactly backward. Liberal dogma is settled: The government should do good, where it can, whenever it can. That is President Obama's idea of pragmatism and bipartisanship: He's open to all ideas, from either side of the aisle, about how best to expand government and get the state more involved in our lives. Meanwhile, conservatism's dogma remains forever in flux. We constantly debate the trade-offs between freedom and virtue, the conflicts between liberty and order.
See, I can't stop myself from getting into this stuff.
But here's the thing. One of the most important, yet most frequently violated, laws of punditry is that your own priorities and preferences aren't always relevant. I would love it if the GOP dedicated itself to cutting government by two-thirds, leaving only a minimal social safety net, a big honking military and a few other bells and whistles for promoting the general welfare. My ideal ticket in 2008 would have been Cheney-Gramm. That's right, Dick Cheney and Phil Gramm: two old white guys who would crush our enemies and liberate our economy while shouting, "You kids get off my lawn!" at the filthy hippies who would inevitably accumulate outside the White House like so much bathroom fungus.
But you know what? It's not about what I want. Gone are the days when a great but uncharismatic president like Calvin Coolidge could get elected because he promised to do as little as possible. ("Perhaps," he observed, "one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business.") My ideal platform may be right. (If I didn't think it was, it wouldn't be my ideal platform, now would it?) But it is surely not popular.