"I'd learned while negotiating union contracts that you seldom got everything you asked for. If you got 75 or 80 percent of what you were asking for, I say, you take it and fight for the rest later, and that's what I told these radical conservatives who never got used to it."

When Ronald Reagan wrote these words in his autobiography, "An American Life," he could have been speaking directly to many of the radical conservatives in today's Congress, who, sadly, still can't get used to it. The latest example of Republicans allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good comes in the form of the farm bill recently rejected by the House of Representatives, which died largely as a result of hard-right conservative opposition from lawmakers bucking their own leadership and joining with Democrats in voting the bill down.

The primary issue was food stamp cuts, which many Democrats opposed because they were too deep, and which 62 Republicans opposed because they weren't deep enough. Never mind that the cuts were larger than the version of the bill that passed the Senate. Ideological purity trumped common sense, and now, instead of getting half a loaf, the conservatives end up getting nothing at all.

That's a shame. There was much in the farm bill that was laudable, especially the provision that would have ended direct payments to farmers and saved $9.3 billion in the process, with total overall savings estimated at $23 billion. The proposed measure would likely constitute the most substantive reform of American agricultural policy in recent memory, with many of the changes moving toward the kind of smaller, less expensive government that today's conservatives ostensibly champion and, because of their rigidity at the bargaining table, seldom achieve.

It's been said many times that politics is the art of the possible, and the stark political reality is that the Democratic-controlled Senate would never agree to the level of food stamp cuts that the hardliners were demanding. In light of that fact, any cuts at all would constitute a conservative victory. If the party of Reagan had followed Reagan's advice and accepted 75 percent, they would still have plenty of opportunities to, in Reagan's terms, "fight for the rest later." Yet as they continue to sing the praises of one of their most successful presidents, they have repeatedly proven unwilling to follow his practical advice.

What a missed opportunity.