One reason I don’t believe today’s Republican party should retain the word conservative is its relationship to institutions. Conservatives respect the institutions of government, even if they try to limit its power. My prime exhibit is the GOP’s contempt for the judicial branch of government, a critical element in a republic designed to check too much power in any branch. Another would be the Federal Reserve, and even, at this point, Medicare. Conservatives are respectful of these anti-democratic institutions because conservatives are concerned about excessive democracy which can trample on basic rights.

Now I do not think that drastic cuts in entitlements and defense are unconservative, because, in many ways, those cuts are necessary to preserve the fiscal balance of the ship of state. But the manner in which they are accomplished should be honed to avoid what Newt Gingrich rightly denounced as right-wing “social engineering.” Reform, not revolution, pragmatic experiments, not radical overhauls, are the lodestars of the real conservative temperament. And if you are trying to rein in healthcare costs, the ACA represents this conservative approach.

Which brings me to the debt ceiling. I think that raising it is a classic opportunity for the GOP and fiscally conservative Democrats to insist on more seriousness on deficit and debt reduction. I hope they do. But I do not believe it should be used as a piece of blackmail at the expense of the American and the global economy. In fact, this may be the riskiest un-conservative posture the GOP has yet advanced. Palin, who is the id of the GOP, addressed the question yesterday:

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin weighed in on the debt ceiling debate Thursday night following a private clam bake in Seabrook, N.H., saying the nation’s borrowing ceiling should not be raised. It would be “a failure of leadership in the House” if “they were to cave and the debt ceiling were to be increased based on what I believe are Timothy Geithner’s false statements to the American people that a catastrophe would befall us all if the debt ceiling isn’t raised.” She told reporters outside the small beach house at which she had organized the party that increasing the debt ceiling is “just going to allow the big spenders to have an additional tool to spend more money.”

Remember: the spending has already been passed. This is not about changing spending in the near future. It’s simply about paying our debts on time. The minute that the US is regarded as being unreliable on this core piece of governing competence, the world markets will experience shock waves in the midst of a still very fragile, post-bubble recovery.

None of this matters to Palin. Because for her, radicalism is so much easier than responsibility. In fact, the reason I am focused on Palin is because she represents, to my mind, the core of today’s “conservative” movement: a desire to smash existing institutions and to “fundamentally restore” the American status quo before the Great Society, and even, the New Deal.

They are playing with sharks. But one of these days, it will no longer be play.