Moderation is a virtue in so many things: if we eat moderately, we can enjoy a wide variety of foods without risking our weight or health; if we drink moderately, we can enjoy alcohol without the negatives of alcoholism; and if we exercise moderately, we can increase our health without damaging our bodies.
It turns out, though, that in matters of principle, certain core beliefs cannot be moderated without destroying the principle itself. That’s what conservatives discovered this election: without core conservative principles as ballast, “conservatism” becomes nothing but a word, unanchored to anything at all. There is no there there.
My statement, above, is not a demand for extremism. It is, however, an insistence that, in the next go round, conservatives need to figure out which principles are inextricably intertwined with conservative notions, and then they need to stick to those principles.
John McCain, who is as good and true a man as ever there was, didn’t have those fixed principles. Instead, as a maverick, he respond situationally, with his gut leading his response as often as not.
Obama, on the other hand, does have fixed principles. There are two guiding lights in his life, and he never loses sign of them: First, his own self-aggrandizement and, second, his Leftist world view. I suspect that, despite all the lies, prevarications and secrets, voters picked up on the underlying fixity of purpose, translated that in their own minds as “strength,” and voted for him as the strong candidate.
All of which is a lead-in to John Hawkins’ excellent analysis of why conservatives cannot build a strong political party around moderates. Note as you read it that he is not calling for political extremism. He’s not demanding that conservatives become fascist totalitarian types, who demand total control of the world and the deaths of their enemies. Instead, he is arguing that, without fixed principles, a political party becomes meaningless — and loses.
In my liberal days, I used to fancy myself a moderate, and I would joke that I was so middle of the road, I got hit by traffic coming from both directions. It never occurred to me that this wasn’t virtuous, but was merely weakly foolish. I would have done better to analyze carefully the traffic coming from either direction, and to pick the side that seemed to build that best cars.