The Republican Party looks like a sports team on a losing streak or a marriage when money is tight. They look like they are coming a part. Whenever things are not going well in any walk of life the small things take on greater significance and become a greater annoyance. Conversely, if things are going well we tend to be less introspective and willing to let the small annoyances go unnoticed. The Republicans are scrambling for answers over what can be done about their losses in 2012. There is disagreement within the party on public display. The party lacks clear leadership which gives the impression Republicans lack direction and cohesion. Republicans need to understand and embrace true conservatism.
Before any serious discussion can be had, however, Republicans need to calm down and take a breath so they can realize things are not as bad as what they seem. There are thirty Republican governors and twenty-seven state legislatures controlled by Republicans. There are also five split legislatures which means Democrats only have nineteen governorships–Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island is an Independent–and control over seventeen legislatures–Nebraska is a unicameral non-partisan legislature. So while at the national level it may look like Republicans are on the decline that is simply not the truth.
In addition to these facts, rapid change is not part of the conservative ethos; in fact, it is antithetical to true conservatism. Conservatism by definition requires slow, incremental change. Thus, any recommendations for change that do not fit these guidlines should be met with a jaundiced eye by Republicans who fancy themselves conservatives.
Liberals, regardless of nation or party, believe in the perfectibility of man and use the government to institute reforms that will hopefully lead to a perfect man and a perfect society. To do so everything that has been done before, and everything that is now being done, must be overturned until we get to the perfect. Liberals follow in the footsteps of Jean Jacques Rousseau and the French Revolution. Conservatives, regardless of nation or party, favor a traditional order and therefore follow in the footsteps of Edmund Burke and the American Revolution.
Conservatives recognize that if reform comes it must be slow and incremental so as not to disrupt the individual or society in a way that will induce backlash or wandering. Liberals are content to overthrow the whole thing and start from scratch.
A liberal agenda places the desires of the individual above the natural order whereas conservatism wants to see individuals flourish within a just political order that is established through tradition that coincides with natural law. This is why conservatives can be for both individual success and traditional order. But this is a complex and nuanced message. The conservative message is not easy to accept or digest because it forces the individual to take personal responsibility for his or her successes and failures, to not turn outward for assistance but to turn inward for answers. It is much easier to point at someone else and say it’s their fault, it is much more difficult to look in the mirror and take responsibility.
The conservative message, and what it implies, cannot be conveyed through rhetoric alone but must be learned through experience and recognition of reality. Republicans need to stick to their conservative message in order to provide a stable foundation for those undecided and independent voters who are looking for a bedrock. Conservatism requires patience and persistence, not immediate and radical change. If Republicans can stick to their conservative roots the country will come back to them as the political majority has always tended to do.
Kyle Scott teaches American politics and constitutional law at the University of Houston and is a candidate for the Lone Star College Board of Trustees, Position #2. His commentary on current events has appeared in Forbes, Reuters.com, Christian Science Monitor, Foxnews.com, Huffington Post, and dozens of local outlets.