Opposition can also be spine-stiffening. Republican self-criticism is necessary and healthy—but all things in moderation. Republicans can and should say, with considerable justification and only a bit of bravado: It is past time we ceased to apologize for an imperfect political party. Find its equal. Probably more than any other party in the world, the Republicans have in recent decades stood unflinchingly for the cause of liberty abroad, and, at home, with a bit more uncertainty, for limited, constitutional government and for the principle that government exists to serve free men and free markets, not the reverse.

Surely, then, it is time for Republican spokesmen to come to be feared in our national forums for the truths they might tell. Truths about the consequences of our weakness abroad and of our debt at home. Truths about the scope of reform necessary to improve health care. Truths not just about liberalism but about crony capitalism, not just about big government but about big business and big education.

Things never turn around immediately. Despite Moynihan’s heroic efforts, the United Nations remained a place of infamy. Gerald Ford defeated Reagan and was in turn defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election. The late ’70s were a grim time.

But six years after Moynihan’s article, Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president. And here too is a lesson. Republicans need to show the spirit of Moynihan. But they also need to aim for the greater achievement of Reagan.