My last post asked what I hoped was a thought-provoking question: why not divide the United States into two countries along ideological lines? At the end of the post, I asked my readers what was wrong with this idea. As inviting as this prospect may seem to some of the more partisan viewers of this blog (including me), there IS something wrong with it. You see, apart from the fact that dividing the U.S. in two would probably require a long and bloody civil war, liberals and conservatives can actually be of use to each other. As an example, I am going to describe how the presence of serious and intelligent liberals in society helps conservatives be better conservatives and better thinkers all around.
Smart liberals protect the conservative movement (and the rest of America) from Stupid Conservatives. Stupid Conservatives are the guys who promote themselves with syllogisms like this one: "Socialism is un-American. Obama is a socialist. Therefore, Obama is not an American! I am not a socialist. Thererfore, I am an American. Vote for me because I am an American!" (The kind of person who I am thinking of would probably say this while running for city council. Such a Proud American won't let a little thing like not being a presidential candidate keep him from taking on Barack Hussein Obama!) Now, I happen to think Barack Obama is definitely a Keynesian and possibly also a crypto-socialist. I can support my claim with facts and reasoning. Perhaps more importantly, I know what socialism actually is, how it differs from mere Keynesianism, and why both are bad economic policies. (I also know what the prefix "crypto-" means and what a syllogism is, for that matter.)
The core problem with Stupid Conservatives is that they don't even know what conservatism is. Conservatism is not just an ideology. It is a relationship with reality that we arrive at through respect for both past traditions and present facts. "Socialism" isn't some imaginary bogeyman we throw rhetorical eggs at in the town square. It's a name for a specific set of economic policies that we believe do more harm than good based on our observations of their effects throughout history. Smart liberals TROUNCE Stupid Conservatives both intellectually and politically because they have a much firmer relationship with reality than Stupid Conservatives do.
Consider the example of Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, "smart liberal du jour" of the conservative movement. He criticized the Obama campaign's attack on private equity because he understands that the private equity industry is an important part of the business community and that business generates the wealth that is necessary to pay for substantial positive social change. Suppose Booker runs for a state or national office against a Stupid Conservative. Realizing that he and Booker are fairly similar economically, the Stupid Conservative will try to attack Booker on social issues. Booker strongly supports gay marriage. The stupid conservative might say that legalizing gay marriage would undermine the traditional family. Booker would probably retort that legalizing gay marriage is a low-risk proposition because traditional marriage as an institution had already collapsed long before gay marriage became legal anywhere. In making this argument, Booker would be more right than his Stupid Conservative opponent. Legalizing gay marriage would probably have about the same effect on the traditional family as a gunshot wound to the foot would have on a person who had been hit by a bus. (The real family values play is to attack no-fault divorce, in my humble opinion).
Smart conservatives like Chris Christie work with smart liberals like Cory Booker to achieve common goals in areas such as expanding school choice and reducing crime. (Christie has also sidestepped Booker on gay marriage by calling a referendum to "let the voters decide.") Conservatives who want to get things done in Washington or in statehouses and city halls outside of New Jersey should take note. No liberal faction, no matter how radical or entrenched, can withstand the power of a smart conservative who has smart liberals on his side. On a more personal front, a smart liberal friend of mine that I mentioned in my last post and with whom I joked about partitioning the United States actually agreed with me that if David Petraeus ever ran for president, we would both be excited to support him. Conservatives, think about this one: who would you rather vote for in November, Slick Mitt or General David "The Man, The Myth" Petraeus? Independents, how about you? Liberals, Obama or ... wait, don't answer that. But still, you'd be OKAY with Petraeus, right?
Liberals keep us on our toes, especially the smart ones. They force us to evaluate conservative leaders on how sensible their policy proposals are for America, not how many times they can quote Ronald Reagan. Contrary to popular myth, the thing that made Reagan special was not how conservative he was, but rather how clearly he could communicate why conservative policies were right for all Americans. If we can't justify ourselves to reasonable people of all political persuasions, we don't deserve to govern America.