Michael Gerson

Eventually, these theories require repudiation or else they can taint a political movement -- like a little red dye turns a container of water pink. This is precisely what William F. Buckley did in the 1950s and '60s, repudiating Rand and Robert Welch of the John Birch Society, thereby creating a legitimate conservatism that could elect candidates such as Ronald Reagan.

A similar effort will be required today of conservative political and intellectual leaders. It will not be easy. Sometimes it takes courage to stand before a large crowd and proclaim that two plus two equals four.

A short primer in political reality should cover several topics. The "revolution" we are seeing is a metaphor. This is not 1776, in which the avenues of representation were blocked by a distant power. Those who take the revolutionary metaphor too literally are not engaged in politics, they are engaged in sedition. The Obama administration proposes to expand government; it is not preparing to overthrow the government. At this point, it does not even seem competent enough to engage in conspiracy. The Federal Reserve, by the way, just helped to prevent a depression by increasing the money supply. It deserves a little thanks. The reform of Social Security and Medicare is a fiscal necessity; the abolition of Social Security and Medicare would be an act of cruelty. Immigrants are not a bacillus; they are a source of values and vitality. And if they are not a source of future Republican votes, conservatives will be voted into obscurity.

Every political movement is threatened by the impatient and irresponsible. William Lloyd Garrison called for the secession of the North to avoid the contaminating evil of slavery, while Lincoln worked to preserve the union. Malcolm X initially found the American tradition fundamentally corrupt, while Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. found vast resources of reform within that tradition. The heroes of America are heroes of unity.

Our political system is designed for vigorous disagreement. It is not designed for irreconcilable contempt. Such contempt loosens the ties of citizenship and undermines the idea of patriotism. "How can we love our country," asked Ronald Reagan, "and not love our countrymen?"

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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