On the Need for Prudence

Back in the fall we noted the counsel of Harvey Mansfield given the Wall Street Journal after the election loss:

“Conservatives should be the party of judgment, not just of principles.  Of course there are conservative principles—free markets, family values, a strong national defense—but those principles must be defended with the use of good judgment. Conservatives need to be intelligent, and they shouldn’t use their principles as substitutes for intelligence. Principles need to be there so judgment can be distinguished from opportunism. But just because you give ground on principle doesn’t mean you’re an opportunist.”

As we’ve suggested here, this quality of prudence was conspicuously lacking in the recent budget confrontation.  I’ll have more to say about this in coming days.

But Ramesh Ponnuru’s Bloomberg column today offers one irresistible detail supplied to him by an anonymous Republican senator about one of the problems Republican leaders face:

Some conservative groups, he says, also took a novel approach in demanding that elected officials share not only their policy goals but also their tactics, and treating disagreement over tactics as a betrayal of principle. Their efforts sometimes produced amusing results. The senator’s office got phone calls urging him to vote against “keister” and “cluster” rather than cloture, for instance, and to “stand with Tom Cruise,” presumably meaning Senator Ted Cruz.