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Reformers versus Traditionalists?

8:16 AM, Nov 11, 2008 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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A characteristically thoughtful and provocative column by David Brooks today, this one the coming "fight over the future of conservatism." There are two camps, Brooks argues, the Reformers and the Traditionalists.

Traditionalists are

the people who believe that conservatives have lost elections because they have strayed from the true creed. George W. Bush was a big-government type who betrayed conservatism. John McCain was a Republican moderate, and his defeat discredits the moderate wing.

To regain power, the Traditionalists argue, the G.O.P. should return to its core ideas: Cut government, cut taxes, restrict immigration. Rally behind Sarah Palin.


argue that the old G.O.P. priorities were fine for the 1970s but need to be modernized for new conditions. The reformers tend to believe that American voters will not support a party whose main idea is slashing government. The Reformers propose new policies to address inequality and middle-class economic anxiety. They tend to take global warming seriously. They tend to be intrigued by the way David Cameron has modernized the British Conservative Party.

Moreover, the Reformers say, conservatives need to pay attention to the way the country has changed. Conservatives have to appeal more to Hispanics, independents and younger voters. They cannot continue to insult the sensibilities of the educated class and the entire East and West Coasts.

This strikes me as too simplistic. I suspect most conservatives do not readily fit into one of these two categories. Like me, for example.

I do think conservatives have lost, in no small measure, because they've strayed from conservative creed. And I think it's indisputable that George W. Bush was a big-government Republican who, in many respects, betrayed conservatism. Further, I believe conservatives should return to their core ideas and near the top of the list of such core ideas should be cutting government and cutting taxes. But I don't think restricting immigration is one of those principles and I know many so-called traditionalists who don't necessarily want to rally behind Sarah Palin, but nevertheless defended her from the hysterical media criticism of her views, her family and her candidacy. So I'm half traditionalist, I suppose.

But, I think I'm half reformer, too. I'm skeptical of modernizing priorities (though I'd be more skeptical about modernizing principles) and I like tax cuts as a way to address middle-class economic anxieties. I take global warming seriously, but I'm turned off by a lot of the alarmist rhetoric used by global warming theorists and I worry that the "solutions" they propose restrict market activity in harmful and unnecessary ways. I'm definitely intrigued by the way David Cameron has modernized the British Conservative Party. I certainly believe that conservatives should pay attention to the ways the country has changed and I've argued repeatedly that we have to appeal to Hispanics and younger voters. Finally, I have very mixed views about insulting the sensitivities of the educated class and "the entire East and West coasts." (Wait, there are no traditionalists on the East and West coasts? Hmmm.) The elites on the East and West coasts have been mocking those of us from "flyover country" for decades and many of those in the so-called "the educated class" -- Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Lee Bollinger, Juan Cole, Ward Churchill, Frank Rich -- have earned their insults.

So am I a reforming traditionalist? A traditional reformer? A tradiformer? A reformitionalist? All of the above? None of the above?

I'm pretty much just a small government conservative. I think there are still a lot of us out here.