In addition to all our other problems in the bitter aftermath of dispiriting electoral defeat, conservatives in 2007 face major challenges of self definition.
Who are we, and what issues remain essential, irreducible elements of our political identity?
Do we need to reconsider our approach to some of the key controversies of the day in order to recapture majority support?
And how do we resolve some of the apparent conservative contradictions? -We want smaller government and fewer public employees at the same time we want to hire more soldiers, cops and border patrol agents. -We favor choice in education, but oppose choice in abortion policy. -We emphatically support the institution of marriage, but don’t want government backing for gays and lesbians who seek to get married.
A clear understanding of the core convictions that make us conservative (and, for the most part, Republican) should resolve such seeming inconsistencies and connect our positions on ostensibly unrelated issues.
Why, for instance, would those who work for lower taxes also favor longer prison terms for violent criminals? What’s the association between strong support for Second Amendment rights and backing for Ten Commandments monuments in public places?
Most of the common efforts to define the fundamentals of conservative thinking fall short in their explanatory power. For instance, it’s impossible to say that conservatives want “small government” above all, when most of us want expanded governmental efforts to crack down on terrorists, crooks and illegal immigrants. Yes, we generally favor “less regulation” but we also want more restrictions on abortion, pornography and desecration of the flag.
It’s true that most conservatives and Republicans describe themselves as religious and we certainly recognize the value of organized faith, but nearly a fourth of GOP’ers remain proudly secular and there’s no obvious religious basis for, say, backing lower taxes on capital gains.
The essential instinct behind modern conservatism goes beyond a desire for small government or any religious impulses, and animates our approach to politics, culture, foreign policy, family life, child-rearing, the business world and much more.
Above all, conservatives feel impelled to make clear distinctions between right and wrong.
We reject all notions of moral relativism. Though we’re obviously imperfect, and (like all human beings) often fail to do the right thing, we try to draw lines between the beneficial and the dysfunctional, between productive and destructive.