- Religious/Social: The ones we hear from most, because they're the loudest. They harp on abortion and homosexuality. They want to ban the practice of the former, and the expression of the latter. Contrary to liberal prejudice, they have something to contribute on these questions.
Not long after permitting abortions, we began engaging in human embryonic cell research. This opened a hole in our law by creating a class of human beings who are pre-personal, i.e., not yet persons, endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights, such as the right to life. But they are not just clumps of cells. They are not just things. Since treating them as if they are mere things de-humanizes humanity, we had best decide what rights they do have, and protect them, in order to protect ourselves from ourselves.
With the partial liberation of homosexuals to just be themselves, we have seen some raunchy/transgressive behavior, and a muddying of the concept of marriage. Listen, friends, if it's rude for Britney Spears to show hers, it's rude for you to show yours, whether or not you self-identify as straight. As for marriage, I propose the following compromise. A binary union between two unrelated consenting adults that is performed by a civil authority is a civil union. The same union performed as a religious ceremony by a recognized religious authority is a marriage. Civil unions and marriages should have all the same rights and privileges before the law. It's just that marriage is a sacrament and civil union is not. That leaves the question of gay marriage with the religious institutions, and gets the government out of it.
- Fiscal: They think the government spends too much. If they would shut up and deliver on fiscal restraint in government, I'd agree with them. As things now stand, however, I'd like to choke a few fiscal conservatives on wads of cash.
- Small government/Libertarian: They think the that whatever powers are not explicitly granted by the Constitution to the federal government are reserved for the States of the People. In this, they are absolutely right, and the current drift toward a freer interpretation of the Constitution is nothing less than the drift toward a soft totalitarianism that De Tocqueville warned us about. Ultimately our government is founded on a system of rules that limit its behavior. If we don't like the rules, we should go through a disciplined process to change them (the Constitutional Amendment process). Our current practice of behaving as if (or judicially declaring that) the rules don't mean what they say puts us all in peril.
Small Government Libertarians seem to have no influence whatever over the Republican Party.
- National Security: They think that keeping Americans safe and secure from foreign attack and or domination is the primary mission of our government. While it is true that until peace breaks out on the entire earth you must either get comfortable with your own military or get comfortable with someone else's, it is only the fourth of six co-equal missions of the federal government:
...to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.Nevertheless, the idea that National Security is a conservative issue indicates a failure of liberals, not a success of conservatives. In point of fact, defense research usually fares better under Democratic administrations than under Republican administrations.
- Pro-human rights and American Exceptionalism: These folks think America's unique mission in the world is to further liberty (aka human rights) at home and abroad. They want to engage China on its human rights violations of Tibet, stop the persecution of Christians in the horn of Africa, stop female genital mutilation in countries that practice it, and on and on and on. So do many liberals. In truth, this has no business being an orientation that distinguishes conservatives from liberals.
Henry Kissinger once said of the Iran-Iraq war that it was a pity that both sides couldn't lose. That's how I feel about liberals vs conservatives, Republicans vs Democrats.
What I want is a smaller federal government that is more competently run, that minds its business instead of ours, and is less cavalier with our money, our liberty, and our lives. Beyond that, I want it to adapt to change (societal and environmental) prudently. And most of all, I want it to represent us. The current practice of legislation being written by 24,000 naive Congressional staffers poorly supervised by Congress-persons from gerrymandered districts, and not read or understood by anyone is not representative government. To me, our Congress is hemorrhaging legitimacy.