The call for compromise often translates into going in the direction laid out by the left, but at a slower speed. Conservatives who see the problem with the proposals of the left to be more a matter of direction than degree, see such a game as impossible to win and often are not enthusiastic when other conservatives choose to play the game. Rarely is there a compromise that actually goes in the direction of shrinking the role of government in our society. The debates seem to be limited to how fast we should expand its role. This is a theme picked up in a recent National Review online article by Jonah Goldberg:
To understand why Republicans have a “branding problem,” you first need to understand how the system is rigged against conservatives.
Such is the schizophrenic dysfunction of our politics: We constantly demand “conviction” politicians who will “do what’s right” and then condemn them, often in the same breath, for being unwilling to put aside their conviction and their sense of what’s right.
But such condemnation does not fall equally on conservatives and progressives alike. For the progressive’s principle is, at its core, more. Do more. Spend more. Spend more doing more. Any compromise of progressive principle in this regard is seen as “pragmatic.” Hence, the progressive’s heart is always in the right place.
The conservative, however, who says the federal government is not the right tool to fix the problem at hand, or that it is not Washington’s job to fix said problem, or that such a problem is itself not fixable and taking money from taxpayers to try is despotic folly: This conservative’s heart is never in the right place.
In other words, the progressive wins entirely on the principled question of direction. The conservative (or libertarian) loses entirely on principle but gets concessions on how fast we’ll go in the wrong direction. The progressive says, “Let’s move to Mars.” The conservative says, “Earth is fine.” They compromise by moving to the moon. And, before the first lunar dawn, the progressives start agitating about how Mars would be so much better.
When the classical-liberal philosopher Friedrich Hayek famously said that he couldn’t call himself a conservative because “It has . . . invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its own choosing,” he had this dynamic in mind, and you can see it on full display as progressives respond to the unfolding disaster of Obamacare by arguing for a single-payer system.
Goldberg dismisses the notion of some conservatives that we should throw in the towel on opposing government activism and simply work to ensure that such activism favors conservative ends. Given that the modern conservative movement was born in a rejection of the use of government to engage in social engineering, the idea of using government activism as a means to serve conservative ends is an oxymoron. Here is Goldberg’s suggestion of an alternative course:
What’s the alternative? Well, if the game is rigged against you, continuing to play the game is the very definition of idiocy. You have to change the rules.
My own view is that conservatives should recommit themselves to federalism and states’ rights. The party of Lincoln should protect core civil rights, but beyond that, states and localities should be given as much freedom as they can handle. If California wants to become Sweden with better weather, let it. If Texas wants to become Singapore on the Rio Grande, great, go for it. And the same principle goes for cities and towns within those states.