Today my NRB colleague Chris Queen has a blog post with a good overview of important issues all conservatives should be able to agree on, but unfortunately, it rests on a deeply flawed premise:
I think the Right is at a crucial crossroads. If we have too many more moments like these, conservatives will be known for what we can’t agree on more than what we can. I believe it’s time for the Right to rally around certain issues and unite. There’s too much that true conservatives can unite around, and that’s what this list is about.
I’d like to make one note here: in this post I’m avoiding certain social issues for one particular reason. While there are plenty of conservatives who are passionate about abortion, traditional marriage, and several other issues, we often have to walk on eggshells when dealing with such issues. My intention is for this post to be a rallying cry, rather than a flashpoint for further debate, so I’m staying clear of some of these potentially more contentious issues.
Conservatism is at a crossroads, all right…but that crossroads is the choice to either stick to our principles or abandon them. Conservatism is undergoing a critical battle for its soul right now, with libertines and cultural leftists within the movement who want to stigmatize and drive out social issues, and avoiding that discussion is functionally equivalent to surrendering those issues to the Left.
Further, social issues simply cannot be separated from the first principles of conservatism. As the murder of innocent human beings, abortion is clearly a liberty issue, and to be pro-choice is nothing less than to reject the Declaration of Independence. And as for marriage, the Founders were clear that self-governing societies don’t work if institutions like the family aren’t strong and stable. Don’t expect to make any progress making government less paternalistic if marriage goes down.
Lastly, on every “unifying” issue Chris lists, there is still intense disagreement, on philosophical, practical, and political grounds. How do fights between pro-life conservatives and pro-abortion Republicans make us “known for what we can’t agree on more than what we can,” but fights between Israel supporters and Ron Paul cultists not? How is arguing against gay marriage divisive, but arguing against people like David Frum, who wants to merely “improve” ObamaCare rather than get rid of it, not?
Bottom line: whenever you stand on any principle, you are inviting division and opposition. It’s unavoidable, and real principle and courage is about standing up for what’s right regardless of how challenging it will be. We can’t expect to get anything done as long as we’re constantly obsessing over who we’re going to alienate, because once you start jettisoning principles for convenience, it’s only a matter of time before you have nothing left.