What we need for victory in 2014 and beyond
Since 2012 there has been soul searching among Republicans about what went wrong and how we can win back the Senate and the White House as well as win local elections. What has been lacking is a serious discussion about what it means to be a conservative and thus what the Republican Party ought to stand for. No political strategy will be successful if we don't have a solidified sense of self. If Republicans are to expand our sphere of influence, we must first decide what it is they mean by conservatism. It is not enough to talk about protecting the border, cutting taxes, and defunding Obamacare. Republicans must possess a core set of values and know why those values are conservative. Enough of the clichés!
On the national level Rand Paul and Chris Christie are exchanging barbs, and each has a different vision for the Republican Party and country. They also have different ideas of what it means to be a conservative. Republicans at all levels disagree among themselves about certain issues, such as whether Edward Snowden is a traitor or patriot. These disputes occur because there is not a clear, accepted definition of conservatism.
The effect of this lack of definition has deleterious effects on our governing as well since it frees up Republicans to act contrary to conservatism. Simply look at the grades given out by Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, and one will see that many Republicans serving in the Texas legislature are not beholden to principles of fiscal conservatism. Republicans in the House like Patricia Harless, Debbie Riddle, and Dan Huberty received failing grades, which indicates they voted against fiscal responsibility on a consistent basis. This is what happens when voters and representatives lack a sophisticated core—representatives can be easily pushed in the direction of big spending and away from conservative values. In order to demonstrate leadership and resist the temptation to go with the flow, an individual must know what he stands for and why.
There are innumerable definitions of conservatism and treatises on the topic. But a good place to start a sophisticated discussion of conservatism is Russell Kirk’s Ten Conservative Principles. They are as follows: (1) conservatives believe in an enduring moral order, (2) conservatives adhere to custom, convention, and continuity, (3) we believe in what may be called the principle of prescription—that is, of things established through immemorial usage, (4) we are guided by principles of prudence, (5) conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety, (6) we are chastened by our principle of imperfectability, (7) conservatives believe that freedom and property are closely linked, (8) we uphold voluntary community and oppose involuntary collectivism, (9) the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions, (10) the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society.
Over the next several posts, I will explore each of these principles and relate them to contemporary concerns while grounding them in a sophisticated exploration of what it means to be a conservative. I have taken up this task before in an earlier post and in a different context, but I think it is worthwhile to pursue the idea in more detail. Without a clear understanding of conservatism, there can be no Republican Party. Without a clear understanding of conservatism there won’t be a Republican Party worth having. We must understand who we are, what we stand for and why in order to win in the political arena and to make that victory matter. We must not be hasty but we must move swiftly.