Writing in his blog late last week, Ross Douthat favorably referenced AEI’s Jim Pethokoukis and Ramesh Ponnuru as policy entrepreneurs. The most interesting insight in Douthat’s piece, however, was this:
Every battle within the G.O.P. tends to be explained in moderate-vs.-conservative terms, and when the subject of policy innovation comes up it’s usually framed as a matter of sensible centrists trying to push their ideas against an intransigent right-wing base. But financial reform is just one of the many areas where the divide might be aptly described as a “donorist” (to borrow Martin’s phrase) versus “populist,” and where the party’s rank-and-file and their tribunes might actually be more receptive to new policy ideas than the self-described moderates who often write the party’s biggest checks.
Douthat’s main point is that while conservatives have shown some willingness to compromise on social issues, the conservative economic platform is still stuck in 1980 because that’s exactly where prominent party donors want it to be. This is a losing strategy.
But one wonders what a winning strategy would be. Conservatism is about not changing. It’s about keeping traditional social structures intact and adhering to long-held mores and customs. And these long-held mores and customs are resilient because they resonate with human nature. A policy revolution, while nice in theory, will likely require conservatives to give up that very thing that makes them conservative – the intransigence of principle that proves out again and again despite repeated bouts with its challengers.
Much more work needs to be done on this issue, but I, for one, am looking forward to hearing two of the brighter minds in conservatism spar about how the movement should evolve. On Wednesday at 6:30 at AEI at an American Enterprise Debate, Tevi Troy and Pete Wehner will debate the path necessary for conservatism’s comeback. Those interested in the future of conservatism should definitely tune in.
Discussions like these are the green shoots of revival in a robust kind of conservatism. Let’s hope they continue to grow.