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First Things First


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Mark Steyn

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the February 14, 2005, issue of National Review, in Steyn’s regular “Happy Warrior” spot.

One reason I was looking forward to Election Day 2004 was so I could stop being viciously partisan. I loved Campaign 2000, couldn’t wait to get up each morning and do another dozen cheap cracks about Al Gore’s earth tones, inventing the Internet, being “raised” on a “farm.” But my heart wasn’t really in it this time round. Oh, to be sure, John and Teresa were a veritable production line of great material–going into Wendy’s and inquiring what “chili” was, etc.–but, to be honest, I was going through the motions. It seemed unworthy of the epic times in which we live to beat up John Edwards. I longed to put aside the ketchup-heiress gags and get back to the great geopolitical sweep of history.

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I assumed the Democrats felt the same. But evidently they don’t, as was made painfully clear by their decision to mark inauguration week by getting Barbara Boxer and Joe Biden to do their bad cop/bad cop routine on Condi Rice. I’m loath to admit it, but one of the dopier sentences of my entire oeuvre was some mawkish pap written in the days after 9/11 saluting the sturdy Biden, the rock of Delaware, for his robust support of the president. He reverted to his usual showboating poltroonery about ten minutes after the first edition hit the streets. What the hell was I thinking?

Well, I was thinking that the justice of our cause was so obvious that it wouldn’t be a party thing. And, even though I was introduced on NPR the other day as a “notoriously toxic conservative,” I still don’t feel I’m the one being partisan. If I lived in Britain, I’d vote for Tony Blair’s Labour party. Yes, yes, I know he’s a nanny-state control-freak and you can hardly pull your pants on in the morning without filling in the form for the Public Trouser Usage Permit and undergoing inspection from the Gusset Regulatory Authority. But on the One Big Thing–the great issue of the age–he’s right, and he’s reliable. And, sad to say, the British Conservative party isn’t. Their leader, Michael Howard, has been a cheesy opportunist on the war, supporting it at the time, backtracking later, his constantly evolving position twisting itself into a knot of contortions even John Kerry might find over-nuanced. Most other Tory heavyweights–ex-Thatcher cabinet ministers like Lord Hurd and Sir Malcolm Rifkind–are more straightforward: They’re agin the war. They’d have no time for his frightful American clothes or his ghastly hamburger diet, but, social distaste aside, they’re Michael Moore Conservatives.

John Howard down under is more congenial, but I wouldn’t say he’s my kind of conservative–he’s a complete wuss on gun rights, for example. Yet, like Blair, he gets the One Big Thing.

Is there a pattern here?…

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