By William Saletan
WASHINGTON — Progressives like to think they're the engine of history. They fight for change, and eventually conservatives succumb. But it doesn't always work out that way. History is littered with liberal ideas — pacifism, high taxation, single parenting by choice — that conservatives challenged and defeated. Progressives may drive history, but conservatives filter it.
That's what makes the reflections of conservative writers on the 2012 presidential election so interesting. It's the filtering process at work. Republicans have suffered a defeat, and they're seeing, in polling trends, signs of trouble ahead. Many of them believe it will become increasingly difficult to win elections with their party's current positions on immigration, marriage and other issues. They're trying to figure out what the GOP must do to restore its viability, and whether they can stomach the changes. Once this process is complete — once the party has decided which changes will be accepted and how they will be reframed and assimilated into a conservative worldview — this stage of history will be consolidated. The old radicalism will be the new consensus.
What will that consensus look like? Here are some early glimpses, through the eyes of the right's leading essayists.
1. America is assimilation.
Michael Gerson, the former George W. Bush speechwriter, argues in his Washington Post column that the GOP must change its attitude toward Latinos. Instead of Mitt Romney's self-deportation scheme, Gerson proposes "a vision of American identity preserved by the assimilating power of American ideals. And that would lead Republicans to endorse the Dream Act and to support a rigorous path to citizenship for undocumented workers already in the country." According to Gerson, this approach would abandon notions of nationalism based on "the exclusion of outsiders" and "the building of walls."