First posted on November 17, 2008.
15-20 years ago, I faced a backyard with no grass and no money to do anything about it.
I couldn’t even afford to water the whole yard.
There was this little patch of beautiful bermudagrass, but it couldn’t spread because of trees blocking the sun and because of a lack of water.
So I radically thinned the tree branches to let in the light. Then I started watering just the area around the grass patch.
As the grass spread, I continued to water the green edges, generously, and the solid grass as little as I could get by with. After a couple summers I had a pretty decent covering of reasonably green bermudagrass.
What does this have to do with our current discussions on the future of the conservative movement and the Republican Party?
Easy. If we follow the advice of David Brooks and a few of his cohorts, and basically abandon conservative principles in pursuit of moderates—however you define that term—we will not be growing our little patch of conservatism. We will, instead, be watering our neighbor’s yard. The only way we can ever win the hearts and minds of moderates is to go after whichever of them we can identify who are already closest to our conservative positions and, through patient teaching and explanation, move them, issue by issue, closer to the conservative position.
We will never win them by becoming more liberal, for two reasons. One is that we will destroy our carefully won brand differentiation. The second is that we can never win a bidding war with liberal Democrats.
I am very sympathetic with the idea that we basically suck when it comes to communicating our principles and values to new generations. We seem to have lost, not only the ability to close the sale, but even to get in the door. But the answer, to my mind, is not to pander, but to educate. However, before you can educate someone else, you yourself have to be educated. And that’s where I see the call to return to First Principles. I am increasingly convinced that all these nice, verbally-advanced pillars of conservative erudition simply do not know what conservatism is.
I don’t want to expend our precious resources, whether of principles or personalities or intellectual capital, watering my next door neighbor’s yard.
Instead, we need to let the sun in and start watering the green edges. And we have a LOT of green edges.