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The Myth of Conservative Purity, by Peter Berkowitz

The Myth of Conservative Purity, by Peter Berkowitz

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Published by Hoover Institution
Appeared in the Wall Street Journal September 7, 2011.

"The great mission of American conservatism—securing the conditions under which liberty flourishes—has always depended on the weaving together of imperfectly compatible principles and applying them to an evolving and elusive political landscape."
Appeared in the Wall Street Journal September 7, 2011.

"The great mission of American conservatism—securing the conditions under which liberty flourishes—has always depended on the weaving together of imperfectly compatible principles and applying them to an evolving and elusive political landscape."

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Published by: Hoover Institution on Sep 08, 2011
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04/06/2014

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Peter Berkowitz 
 
 
The Myth of Conservative Purity 
by Peter BerkowitzSeptember 7, 2011With the opening o the all political season and tonight’s Republican candidate debate,expect inuential conservative voices to clamor or ellow conservatives to set aside halmeasures, eschew conciliation, and adhere to conservative principle in its pristine purity.But what does delity to conservatism’s core convictions mean?Superstar radio talkshow host Rush Limbaugh has, with characteristic bravado,championed a takenoprisoners approach. In late July, as the debtceiling debatebuilt to its climax, he understandably exhorted House Speaker John Boehner to standstrong and rightly praised the tea party or “putting country beore party.” But then Mr.Limbaugh went urther. “Winners do not compromise,” he declared on air. “Winners donot compromise with themselves. The winners who do compromise are winners who stilldon’t believe in themselves as winners, who still think o themselves as losers.We saw the results o such thinking in November 2010, when Christine O’Donnell wasdeeated by Chris Coons in Delaware in the race or Vice President Joe Biden’s vacatedSenate seat. In Nevada Sharron Angle was deeated by Harry Reid, who was returnedto Washington to reclaim his position as Senate majority leader. In both cases, theRepublican senatorial candidate was a tea party avorite who lost a very winnable election. The notion o conservative purity is a myth. The great mission o American conservatism—securing the conditions under which liberty ourishes—has always depended on theweaving together o imperectly compatible principles and applying them to an evolvingand elusive political landscape.William F. Buckley Jr.’s 1955 Mission Statement announcing the launch o National Reviewwelcomed traditionalists, libertarians and anticommunists. His enterprise provides amodel o a bigtent conservatism supported by multiple and competing principles: limitedgovernment, ree markets, traditional morality and strong national deense. These principles may appear harmonious. That’s because they all served the causeo preserving reedom against the leading threats o the day: massive expansion o government, intrusive regulation o the economy, a breakdown o established sourceso authority and belie, and communist tyranny. But harmony was an achievement. Justask those who made a priority o limiting government about the impact o unding andmaintaining a powerul military. Or inquire o a traditionalist what measures are necessaryto maintain the virtues amidst the constant churn and cultural cacophony generated bycapitalism.A WALL STREET JOURNAL OP-ED
The Myth of Conservative Purity
 
Peter Berkowitz 
 
 
The Myth o Conservative Purity 
2 Hoover Institution
Stanord University
Our greatest conservative president, Ronald Reagan, prudently wove together adevotion to limiting government and protecting the moral bases o a ree society.But the policies he pursued were not mechanically derived rom his principles. Theystemmed rom complex considerations concerning the necessary, the desirable andthe possible. His landmark progrowth tax cuts o 1981 were ollowed later by sometax increases. On divisive social issues such as abortion and school prayer, he oferedstrong words but restrained actions. And in conronting the Soviet Union, he insistedon the unmitigated evil o communism while pursuing dramatic negotiations tolessen the threat o nuclear conagration, thereby paving the way to victory in theCold War. The intellectual architects o the American political and economic order were alsoblenders and weavers. For example, John Locke, the great 17thcentury theoristo individual rights and limited government, argued in “The Second Treatise o Government” that in the event a ather dies and ails to provide or the care andeducation o his son, the state must make provision.And in “The Wealth o Nations,” Adam Smith, the ather o reemarket economics,maintained that the public should ofer and require an education or almost all. Whileit would be grossly misleading to designate Locke and Smith as ounders o themodern welare state, it would be negligent to overlook their teaching that beyondsecuring individual rights, governments devoted to reedom had interests in thewelare o their citizens. Today, we are urged by tea party activists, and with excellent reason, to look to theauthors o “The Federalist,” the authoritative expounders o the Constitution, torecover the principles o limited government. But it is instructive to recall that in theirday the makers o the American Constitution were the enlargers and strengthenerso ederal power.Hamilton, Madison and Jay deended the new Constitution not only because o themany and varied limitations it imposed on the exercise o power. They also deendedit because, in contrast to the Articles o Conederation, the Constitution incorporatedin the national government the power to operate without the regular interventiono state governments; assigned it ultimate authority in matters requiring uniormity,including regulation o trade and naturalization; and made it supreme over thestates, including in judicial matters.On issue ater issue, delity to the variety o conservative principles imposes notonly the obligation to blend and balance but also to give due weight to settledexpectations and longstanding practices. For instance, an appreciation o thesecrisscrossing obligations should impel conservatives to work both to improve the

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