The Democrat inspired scrap that broke out among Republicans over who our leader is has had at least one productive result - it gave cover enough for those moderate Republicans who have been seeking to change the party to come out publicly, aiming to shame the party into changing. During the last election that fault line was obvious, and it contributed to the choice of a moderate Republican to lead what was still recognized as essentially a conservative party swimming in a star-struck electorate. Many let that happen because they lacked confidence in our traditional message and our conservative principles. When McCain lost, moderates argued that it wasn't his fault, it was the stone he had to carry around. Get rid of the stone, victory is assured. The stone was social conservatism. That advice hasn't gone over well, and we've spent the last several months debating our message and the principles that animate it. The Limbaugh affair has reignited the war between the camps. The battle shapes up as The New Majority Republican (Frum, et al; moderates) vs. the conservatives (Limbaugh, et al). So what do the moderates want us to do?
Their plan goes like this: we must moderate our social views, embrace nationalized healthcare and accept higher taxes on those that can certainly afford them. The moderates recognize that these are huge pills for conservatives to swallow, so as they've argued during the Limbaugh fight, what they're asking us to do is to simply Shut Up until the next election. This strategy has been used successfully before.
In 2005 Nancy Pelosi was on a Sunday morning political show being grilled about her "culture of corruption" strategy to winning the House back for the Democrats. The interviewer asked her what her ideas were for voters - didn't she need to spell those out? She replied no, that as the party in the minority, her job wasn't to come up with the ideas, it was to point out the mistakes of the majority party. She was the "loyal opposition." A lot of us Republicans have grumbled that the Democrats have been winning power without ever detailing their plans until they got into power; our belief is that if Democrats told voters what they actually wanted to do... they'd never get elected. Nancy Pelosi knew this, and settled upon a strategy that took the focus away from her party's designs and kept it firmly focused on the Republicans in power. It worked, and today the Democrats control government and have thrown open the gates, rushing in to implement leftist policy affecting all aspects of our lives.
This is essentially what the moderates of the Republican party want us to do. Conservatives: shut up and lay low, this way we might be able to get the electorate to forget that we're racists and homophobes and rich, and the next moderate candidate we pick will be viable to the moderate electorate because he won't be carrying that stone around his neck. It worked for the Democrats, why won't it work for us?
Conservatives answer that this country is a conservative country, and silencing the conservative wing of the Republicans will only alienate those voters; but where are those voters going to go? Moderates will argue that it's easier to keep old voters than to attract new ones, and our focus has to be on enlarging our base. We can't win with the coalition we've got now. Our best bet is to hide the ugly stepchild under the stairs until we win again, and then they promise to let him out after we've won.
But will they? The motivation behind moderate antipathy towards conservatives goes far deeper than policy differences, in fact it's little different than the motivation behind liberal antipathy towards conservatives. Conservatives, with their traditional social values (anti-same sex marriage, abstinence, family, church, pro-life), economic values (low taxes, small government, less regulation) and philosophical positions (individual liberty, freedom over equality, patriotism) serve as obstacles to their progressive, modernizing movement to change the face of America. Progressive Democrats and Republicans alike believe it is inevitable that by the middle of the twenty first century gay marriage will be widely accepted, universal healthcare funded by the government will be considered a natural right, religion will be near extinct and individual liberty will be the Neanderthal one hears about but has never met. If this is to be the future, how can Republicans be a part of it if all they are known for is standing athwart history yelling "stop!"
The ham-handed tactics of David Frum and Kathleen Parker reveal a desperation by the liberal wing of our party to remain relevant, and their proscriptions will leave a hollowed out party now only a caricature of what it once stood for. Relevancy means giving up on those outdated ideas that are marginalizing us. Our firm response is that liberty never goes out of style, though it is rare in human history. Respect for life is going to be more important than ever as life gets cheaper and science discovers godlike power. The damage inherent in abandoning traditional mores will destroy opportunity and entrap generations. Paternalism isn't progress. Socialism isn't progress. America isn't free by nature, but by sheer will.
Freedom may be out of style now, but who can afford to wait for until it is once again? Conservative Republicans have just as much right to make the future as progressives do. It's not modernity we fear, it's the price we're being told to pay.