Jonah Goldberg

It's no secret that the right is going through what some call a healthy debate and what others see as an identity crisis.

For some, the solution to what ails conservatism requires a sudden philosophical shift leftward to win back the last Rockefeller Republicans, presumably hanging on in nursing homes like stranded Japanese fighters who haven't gotten word World War II is over. Others argue that Republicans must shake off the heresies of moderation and compromise and accept the unalloyed true faith of 100 percent conservatism.

Those are hardly the only choices, of course. For instance, some make a very good case for fighting fire with better fire and offering a slew of superior policies and reforms than what the Democrats have tacked up on the wall in recent years.

While I have my sympathies and positions in all of these fights, I've long argued that regardless of what policies Republicans should offer or what philosophical North Star they might follow, one thing the GOP could definitely use is better politicians.

Ronald Reagan's cult of personality remains strong and deep on the right, and I count myself a member of it. But what often gets lost in all the talk of the Gipper's adamantine convictions and timeless principles is the simple fact that he was also a really good politician. Barry Goldwater was every bit as principled as Reagan, but Reagan was by far a better politician. That's at least partly why Goldwater lost in a stunning landslide in 1964 and why Reagan was a two-term political juggernaut. Reagan won votes from moderates, independents and lots of Democrats.

To listen to many conservative activists today, we need a candidate as principled as Reagan to save the country, but you rarely hear of the need for a politician as good as Reagan.

Unfortunately, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go into elections with the politicians you have, not the politicians you want. So the question isn't how to find better leaders but how to make the leaders we have better.

One answer is really remarkably simple: Tell better stories.

In July, Rod Dreher, the author of the memoir "The Little Way of Ruthie Leming," wrote a deeply insightful essay for the American Conservative on how the right has largely lost the ability to tell stories. Worse, many of the stories we continue to tell "are exhausted and have taken on the characteristics of brittle dogma."


Jonah Goldberg

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