I was challenged by a friend on the other side of the great ideological divide to come up with the high points of conservatism's record over the last 50 or so years. My thoughtful answer was that there's a continuum, that both the New Deal and the undesirability of confiscatory levels of taxation have captured the center, that Nixon was a liberal and that Bill Clinton was not unconservative, but that was apparently unsatisfactory. (I thought it was we righties who are the simplistic Manichaeans, seeing everything in terms of black and white, but not so, not so.)
I despise laundry lists, but I do credit the ability of conservatives, when asked, to actually answer a direct question. (Oooo, I should have included that one.) And so:
---That the constantly rising tide of taxation needed to be reversed, as it stifles hard work, entrepreneurship, innovation, and ultimately, prosperity.
---That the constantly rising tide of regulation needed to be halted, as compliance begins to elbow out actual production.
---That deregulation largely results in lower prices for consumers (energy, telephones, airlines).
---That communism was an ideological tyranny, an enemy of freedom and of man's spirit, and needed to be opposed and rolled back at every opportunity. (The Strategic Defense Initiative, "Star Wars," drove liberals nuts but drove the Soviet Union to suicide.)
---That autocrats like the Shah are better and more able to reform than totalitarian ideologies like the one that now operates Iran. (We may thank the late Jeane Kirkpatrick for that one.)
---That, per Washington's Farewell Address, religion is not an enemy, but an irreplacable ally for any republic that depends first and foremost on individual self-governance.
---That the family is the core platoon of society (there is a provable higher incidence of almost every social pathology in its absence), and that the welfare system was destroying it and individual initiative as well.
---That affirmative action is at best neutral in the short term, that its greater access is offset by things like lower graduation rates and suspicion of minorities' genuine achievement.
---That in the long term, emphasizing the discrimination against groups as trumping individual effort and achievement has resulted in an epidemic hopelessness and a destructive racial divide.
---That choice in schools (vouchers) is the only real solution to resegregation. (One can be sure that if conservatives had such a monopoly on the schools and the education establishment [without whose money and volunteers the Democratic Party would die], good liberals everywhere would be in favor of such freedom.)
---That Milton Friedman's Earned Income Credit is a truly beautiful thing, where if you work harder (or work at all), even for low wages, you end up with more money, to spend as you will. What a concept.
---That despite the flaws of things like Three Strikes, locking up pathologically habitual offenders keeps them off the streets and it's a mathematical certainty, borne out by the stats, that crime rates decrease.
---That a person has a right to defend kith and kin, even with a gun if necessary.
---That the 55 mile an hour speed limit totally, clearly, and unimpeachably sucked.
If all conservatives ever accomplished was the last one, I'd say it was all worth it. Please feel free to jump in; I'm going to make a printout when it's done, because there are so many things we take for granted after Reagan and Gingrich that people need to be reminded of just now.
On both sides of the great divide.