I cant improve upon Richard Reebs response to Daniel Henningers Friday Opinion Journal column. Where Henninger says that voters want "ideology" rather than pork barrel politics, Reeb writes about principle and prudence.
At a time when the Democratic elites no longer have a vibrant ideology and the Republicans in Washington are deserting theirs, the public across the spectrum seems to be screaming for recognizable signposts, shared political principles.
I do not believe for one minute that Henninger concedes anything to the leftist ideologues, but by putting the rights "ideology" on a par with the lefts, he unnecessarily grants the left more credit than it deserves. What makes conservatism a wise choice for Americans is not its unanchored theories but its appreciation of what in America needs to be conserved--and extended--for the sake of "the perpetuation of our political institutions." Abraham Lincoln called our nation "the last, best hope of earth," by which he explicitly meant, as did the founders, that America is a model for the rest of the world. Rightly there is a debate about the prudence of extending self government in this or that area of our national life or in this or that region of the world, but it is always an option. Lincoln emphatically meant that America must strive always to put its own house in order so that it may be the example the world needs.
But whether it be foreign or domestic policy, true conservatism consists in doing the most good in the circumstances, holding fast to the "self evident" truths and republican habits at our nations foundation, without conceding non-existent virtues to any anti-republican doctrines. Prudence can thus usher in boldness no less than caution if public opinion is ripe for wise measures that "provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare."
Henninger makes the all-too-common error of identifying ideology and adherence to political principle, forgetting or overlooking the role of reason and hence of prudence in the latter. Not all compromises are unprincipled or merely pragmatic. And not all "theoretical" positions are reasonable. An "ideology" closed to experience and conversation hardly counts as principled. After all, principles ought (in principle, one might say) to be shareable with others.