Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened. -- Winston Churchill

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. -- Galileo Galilei

I never give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it's hell. -- Harry Truman

Location: Wichita, Kansas

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

When Conservatives Aren't

The principle of protecting individual liberty by limiting governmental intrusion into personal freedom has been a bedrock of conservative principles. We have long believed that it is important to keep such intrusions to a minimum, and when it is necessary, to do so at the lowest practical level of government. This helps keep decision making as local as possible, maximizing the extent to which our laws reflect the desires of the people living under them.

Many conservatives have gone astray from this principle, seeking to federalize social and moral issues, just as liberals do. The only difference is which pet issues and positions on issues they endorse. The substitution of limiting governmental intrusion for a “conservative social agenda” has contributed to the “culture wars” and increasing polarization we see today.

The victory of either the Democrats or the Republicans has come to mean that one large part of the population will have another large segment attempt to force their personal mores upon them. This change in philosophy is reactionary and in part understandable. The liberals had so dominated the Supreme Court and Congress for so long that they had succeeded in imposing a federal government with an extreme liberal agenda upon the entire country.

So many issues that are rooted in a person's core personal values and religious beliefs have been incorporated into a liberal “win” in the federal courts or national legislation that those on the other side of these issues felt besieged and attacked. As a shift toward more conservative beliefs in this country has occurred, more and more people have found themselves in a nation where government policy and the law no longer represents them, and seems in fact to be hostile toward them.

The current environment of “litmus test” elections on social issues is not, however, the right answer. It can only lead to further divisiveness. Conservatives need to eschew the liberal approach, and return to fighting for the more fundamental belief that the government that governs least governs best.

New York should not have to live with the views of Alabama ruling their lives, and vice versa. If people in Chicago believe school vouchers give inner city children a better shot at a quality education, and parents in San Fransisco do not, let them go their own way. That is called democracy and freedom. If parents in Phoenix think that saying the Pledge of Allegiance is the best thing since sliced bread, and those in Minneapolis don't, so be it.

The principled course of conservatism is to continue to reign in courts that unnecessarily impose their own beliefs and take away the right of our people to decide through elections. At the same time, we must avoid pushing strategies that impose socially conservative values on everyone. A constitutional ban on gay marriage, for example, is a bad idea. Let Vermont do what Vermont chooses.

A pragmatic cost of small tent thinking is that we stand to lose some of our own best candidates. A case in point is the viability of Rudy Giuliani as a Republican candidate for President. He is just about universally acknowledged as a terrific leader and possessing the qualities of which strong President's are made. Many believe he could never get the nomination, and they may be right. The reason is that he fails a few “litmus test” issues. Specifically, he is not anti-abortion and supports gay rights.

John McCain has the same “problems” as a candidate. Either one would whip Hillary or any other Democrat in the election with room to spare. Enforcement of a conservative social orthodoxy is not only a loss of principle, it is a loser at the ballot box.

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