To My Fellow Conservatives: It’s OK to be Unorthodox

Over the last few weeks I’ve heard rumblings among local conservatives about how some of the people elected as Republicans in the last election are not voting the way they “should,” and that there may be efforts to remove them through redistricting or in the next primary. I am hearing essentially three general complaints:

  • some of the officials are not acting as quickly or as boldly as voters hoped they would to fix problems and pass conservative-supported legislation;
  • some of the officials appear not to be as competent as the voters had hoped, or appear not to be as committed to the issues they stressed during their campaigns; and
  • some of the officials are not voting for policies expressly supported in our party platform.

I will briefly address the first two issues.

First, we are still at the beginning of a very difficult process of trying to fix a lot of problems from City Hall and Commissioner’s Court to Austin and to Washington, and this is the season when “sausage” is made by our elected officials who are negotiating these issues. We must remain vigilant to make sure our elected officials carry out the mission we elected them to pursue, but I still caution all of my fellow conservatives to remain supportive and patient as this process unfolds—it took 100 years for us to get into this mess, and it will take more than a few months to fix it. Fixing it will require innovation, and the process of innovation, like the process Edison followed to find the right filament for his light bulb, will not always be pretty and pure.

Patience also should dictate our response to the second issue. I think my resume gives me at least a little credibility to ask for this patience, because I don’t think anyone can question whether I believe in competition in our party primaries. There is still time to evaluate the progress of our elected officials, both old and new, as they try to govern using the new mandate they were given in November, without threatening primary challenges.

It is the third issue, though—the issue of “orthodoxy”—that I am most concerned about.

Echoing Russell Kirk and Ronald Reagan, I have said repeatedly over the last few years that American Conservatism is not an ideology or religion, it is a set of principles learned through experience over the millennia of human history. Our party platform, in turn, is not a manifesto or scripture, it is a documented consensus as to how our principles should be used to address the issues of the day. The process of reaching a consensus requires compromise over opinions and positions that start, and often remain, in conflict. When the consensus is reached, those who have agreed to run under the banner of the platform have the burden to explain to their constituents why they deviate from the consensus on any given issue.

However, the transformation we need will require innovation. Innovation requires creativity in the way we apply our principles to solve our problems. Slavish adherence to a consensus as if it is orthodoxy does not promote such creativity. Today, more than ever, we need conservative leaders, like Governors Walker and Christie, who will boldly innovate.

Consistent with what I have said in the past, I support the Republican Party of Texas Platform, and I would support the implementation of policies addressed in the platform if I were an elected official. However, there are planks where my support is not based on my own opinion or position, but based on my support of the consensus reached by my party. I know that I am not alone.

At a time when we have such a dominant majority across Texas and we face such daunting problems, we should not punish or discourage those within our ranks who are willing to challenge our consensus, and discuss—or even use their legislative vote to advance—opinions and positions outside the consensus. Instead, we should welcome the resulting debate, as long as they apprise us of the reasons they believe their views are consistent with our principles.

It is from just such unorthodox discussions a generation ago that the Reagan Revolution began. Let’s open our ears and listen with hope that a new generation of innovative conservative ideas will be debated and pursued.