The Conservative Continuum

There has been much discussion around these parts of late about “50%ers,” “squishes,” “moderates,” and all manner of other adjectives to describe those who do not appear to be “strict” conservatives.  But what does that mean?

As I’ve stated here several times, conservatism isn’t binary.  There is no on- or off-switch that magically turns one into a conservative.  And although there are philosophers, authors, etc. who have created great works describing the conservative mind and philosophy, most conservatives have not read them, and even if we have, there are few who consistently follow the philosophy.

We have many in DC who we identify as conservatives, yet many/most of them occasionally anger us over their apparent “straying off the ranch” with votes that don’t meet our expectations.  But is that unexpected?  Shouldn’t we expect that  there are precious few “100 percenters” out there?  Where do we draw the line?  What turns a good Senator or Representative into a conservative turncoat?  Look at it this way:

One can draw a line anywhere along that continuum.  Where is the acceptable place to draw it, and how do you determine where it goes?  Do we use National Journal rankings?  American Conservative Union?  The Club for Growth?   But more interesting to me is:  is there a litmus test that disqualifies a politician from being considererd “conservative?”  What is it?  How many litmus tests are they allowed to fail before being rejected?  Is our view of things more like this:

What drives the location of that dividing line?

Consider these, and which of them (and how many) establishes that red/blue line:

Defense issues:

  • The Iraq war was a complete mistake – we should have never gone in there
  • We probably should never have gone to Iraq, but now that we’re there, we should stay and ensure stability and safety for the Iraqi people
  • We were fully justified in invading Iraq and we should stay as long as it takes
  • The Bush Doctrine of preemptive intervention in areas that are potential dangers to the USA should be continued by the Obama administration
  • The USA should not pursue what is perceived as imperialist missions into other sovereign countries unless we are attacked.

Economic and regulatory issues:

  • The US government should avoid regulatory intervention at all costs
  • The US government should increase regulation substantially to help protect the health of the people and the planet
  • The US government should impose regulations selectively, depending upon the situation.  Some regulation is good, even if it’s not necessarily linked to items such as national security or urgent health issues
  • Regulatory intervention to protect the environment, such as the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other similar laws are good for the environment and they are in turn good for the country.
  • The government should never have passed TARP – it was a socialist imposition on the monetary system of the United States.
  • The TARP program was critical to the stability of the financial system, and its passing was necessary.
  • The government should have placed even more money into the TARP program to fix other financial issues
  • The Obama economic stimulus act was a bad idea all around and never should have passed
  • Significant government spending was and is necessary to stimulate the economy, but the Obama plan went overboard
  • Economic stimulus legislation should have consisted primarily of tax cuts, refunds, and similar.
  • The US has no business giving money to the US auto manufacturers – they should file Chapter 11 if they are in trouble
  • The US auto industry is too vital to the economy to allow it to go under and lose millions of jobs.

Social issues

  • Abortion should be illegal in all situations
  • Abortion should be illegal after the 1st trimester
  • Abortion should be allowed if the mother’s life is in danger
  • Abortion should be allowed in any situation
  • Gay marriage should be legalized
  • Civil unions should be instituted as an alternative to marriage for gays
  • Gay marriage should never be legalized
  • Affirmative action is reverse racism
  • Affirmative action helps build diversity in the workplace
  • Prayer should be permitted in public schools to help fight the erosion of morals
  • Prayer has no place in school, although children should be able to pray on their own, away from class

That’s enough for now… now look at these… which of them are conservative, which are liberal?  Of those that are liberal, which, if any, should disqualify one from running as a Republican and gaining the support of the national party and of conservatives?  For example, is it possible for a “conservative” to have supported TARP or the Obama economic stimulus?  Is it possible for a conservative to support abortion on demand without limits?  How many litmus tests must a person fail/pass before they swing into the “red zone”?

Lest we wonder why this kind of ideological struggle takes place in the GOP – and even conservative ranks – the topic was discussed a couple of years ago in a Wall St. Journal article that I still refer back to on occasion.  In it, Peter Berkowitz describes the situation, where the left is nearly always unified in their positions on policies and philosophies, whereas conservatives are frequently at odds over significant positions, such as Iraq and abortion.  While Berkowitz does not offer a solution to the problem, he does observe a couple of potential causes.  This one rings true:

Balancing the claims of liberty and tradition, or showing how liberty depends on tradition, is the very essence of modern conservatism, the founding text for which was provided by Whig orator and statesman Edmund Burke in his 1790 polemic, “Reflections on the Revolution in France.” The divisions within contemporary American conservatism–social conservatives, libertarians, and neoconservatives–arise from differences over which goods most urgently need to be preserved, to what extent, and with what role for government.

Rather academic, but when you think about it (especially that latter phrase), that’s where we are.  If you again ponder the policy positions I enumerated above, they really come down to what needs to be preserved and what is the role of the government?

The question for us is:  how can we maintain enough unity to defeat the unified Left, whose mission is to completely transform this country into a Marxist/Socialist/Leftist paradise nightmare?  Constant infighting isn’t going to do it.  And only accepting Republicans that score an “A” on the conservative fealty test and fall far into the red zone will not do it either.  As I’ve (and others here) stated numerous times, I have no issue holding GOP leadership to a higher conservative standard than others, but where do we draw the line?  What is the deciding factor?  Where should they fall on the continuum?