A radical reaction has erupted in response to the health care bill, and its motto is: “Repeal and Replace.” But this isn’t a principle; it is a talking point bordering along utopianism. True conservatives are not radicals; they respect tradition and work for stable reform to fix institutions.
Edmund Burke said, “People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.” This provides a solid framework for the conservative to approach problems. Societies inherit institutions, traditions, and values from previous generations. Some of them are bad, so it is the job of the conservative to identify institutions that are worth conserving while working to reform those that are not.
Institutions can be flawed, but they provide the foundation for society and maintain social cohesion. In America, the great institutions that unite all Americans would include the Constitution, the military, social security, and Medicare. One can debate the merits and failures of welfare state programs, but the reality is that social security and Medicare are firmly interwoven into American society. Dismissing them as mere socialist/progressive tampering in need of repeal puts ideology before principle and country. The true conservative maintains that these institutions are important to the cohesion of American society, and if needed should be reformed.
If the health care bill should become an unsustainable liability for America conservatives must do what they do best: conserve what is good and work to prudently change what is not. The extremist platform of “Repeal and Replace” ought to be repealed and replaced with a more pragmatic and principled “Remember and Reform.” While this may preserve institutions that do not completely conform to various brands of conservative political ideology, it will embrace a fundamental virtue of conservatism–moderation. This is something lacking in American political discourse today. Moderation is the basis of compromise and the foundation for order. If anything distinguishes a conservative from a radical, it is their devotion to tradition and order. These principles are eternal and they are the ones worth conserving.