The gist of it is, while Democrats are (mostly) pragmatists, Republicans are (mostly) ideologues. And that reinforces something I've been thinking for some time now. Jonathan Chait agrees (my emphasis):
One of my longstanding fixations, going back almost a decade now, is that we make a mistake when we think of liberalism and conservative as symmetric ways of thinking. On economic policy, at least, they are asymmetric. Liberals believe in activist government entirely as a means to various ends. Pollution controls are useful only insofar as they result in cleaner air; national health insurance is valuable only to the extent that it helps people obtain medical care. More spending and more regulation are not ends in and of themselves. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe in small government not only for practical reasons — this program will cost too much or fail to work — but for philosophical reasons as well.
A new political science paper by Matt Grossman and David Hopkins bears out this way of thinking about American politics. The authors find a fundamental asymmetry between the Republican and Democratic coalitions. They examined survey results and other data among voters, activists, and elites, and found that Republicans express their beliefs about government as abstract ideology (big government is bad) while Democrats express their beliefs in the form of benefits for groups. The differences are enormous (as shown in the chart above).
The different ways of conceptualizing the debate over government spills over into every other way in which the parties operate. Democrats are more favorable toward moderation and political compromise; Republicans toward ideological purity and principle. It’s not coincidental that Republicans have instigated more high-stakes partisan escalation in Congress.
The asymmetry has also colored our understanding of issues like Obamacare.
And I agree; while Democrats think of Obamacare as a partial solution to America's dysfunctional health care system, Republicans seem to think it's bad because any government intervention in the economy is bad by definition.
Or take social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage. I'd say most Democrats would argue that abortion is either right or wrong depending on the circumstances. And while many Democrats may have been skittish about gay marriage in the past, most seem to have concluded that it doesn't really affect them after all, so why not? Republicans, on the other hand, would argue that abortion and gay marriage are wrong because they're wrong, i. e., because my religion tells me they're wrong. (That position, by the way, is going to hamper the GOP politically for a long, long time. Republicans may just have to wait until the older generation dies off to become competitive again on a national level.)
Or government spending: for Republicans it's always wrong, wrong, wrong (except, somehow, in the case of defense or benefits for seniors) while Democrats would say, "it depends."
So which would you say you are, a pragmatist or an ideologue? And which one would you say is better positioned for the future?