The next President of the United States will be elected next week in South Carolina. At least that’s the feeling/panic/fear in conservative and Republican circles. As Bill Kristol has pointed out on every TV show shy of This Old House, John McCain represents something very new; an insurgent who’s running against both the Republican establishment and the conservative movement. Thus, the two main factions of conservative electoral politics are in danger of being locked out by a Republican presidential candidate. For many GOPers, the election of John McCain would be like the Cardinals selecting a Greek Orthodox Pope. It’s not so much that they disagree on everything — the Greek Orthodox aren’t Atheists or Buddhists (like a Gore or Bradley would be) — but they just don’t understand each other.
(It could happen. If McCain wins in South Carolina the resulting tide could sweep over any of the so-called Bush “firewalls” being erected by the 26 GOP governors endorsing GW. If McCain wins South Carolina he will likely take Michigan — where he is doing very well already (see this South Carolina Wire [Link defunct]) which means he will likely take Arizona (see this Arizona Wire [Link defunct]) which means he will likely take California (a McCain state to be sure). Moreover, Bush — a Southern governor running as a conservative Republican in the most conservative Republican state, without competition on the Right and with tens of millions of dollars on hand — should be able to win South Carolina by a huge margin. The American Research Group poll has Bush gaining ground, but ARG (often confused for the sound made by wounded Superheroes) was the most egregiously wrong of all the New Hampshire pollsters and it seems clear now that the Republican primary could be swamped by Democrats for McCain.
The reaction of the Chamber of Commerce Republicans should not surprise anyone. They’ve invested a lot in Bush and they want to get their money’s worth. What I find interesting is the reaction of professional conservatives. You see, there’s an important difference between Republicans and Conservatives. Republicans — like Democrats — are interested in power first, ideas second. Conservatives — usually — have it the other way around. We believe that ideas have consequences and that power flows from being right. And, if forced to choose between being right and being in power, the Conservative will more likely choose being right.
For much of this campaign cycle, the fear was that George Bush was too squishy, too much a Republican and not enough of a conservative. That is what prompted the fair Jessica Gavora to pen Lamar Alexander’s “weasel words” broadside. “Compassionate conservatism” was seen as a marketing trick; a bold yet craven general election strategy that would make voting for a Republican palatable to voters who’d grown fat on the saccharine panderings of Clintonism. Save for McCain and Elizabeth Dole, every GOP contender going back to Pat Buchanan, Bob Smith and even Lamar Alexander has run to Bush’s right.
Now, with the departure of Steve Forbes, there is no viable candidate to the Right of Bush (please, no e-mails about the Keyes Juggernaut). Tod Lindberg, editor of the excellent Policy Review, writes in today’s Wall Street Journal that the defeat of Forbes represents the demise of the conservative true-believers as a movement. Emboldened by the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, conservative populists hoped to replace the New Deal with a new conservative era, Lindberg observes.
Now conservatives are left to choose between Bush and McCain. Some, like Lindberg and Kristol — though for very different reasons I suspect — believe that the conservatives should throw away the old crusades and go with the flow. Others like Paul Weyrich seem just plain cranky, like men who refuse to admit that the Dodgers no longer play for Brooklyn. And others are just plain practical — as conservatism is the more practical ideology. Charles Krauthammer argues today that no matter how bad a President Bush or McCain might be, it’s nothing compared to the horrors of a Gore presidency. Surely, Krauthammer is right (see today’s Nota Bene [Link defunct]). The choice between Bush and McCain is akin to debating whether to order the steak or the surf and turf, while the choice between either Republican nominee and Al Gore is the choice between a nice meal and a bucket of rocks.
I have not hidden the fact that I think John McCain’s approach to “reform” is precisely the wrong one. However, McCain wants to fix the right things; he just wants to do it in the wrong way. If his actual policies for reform were the right ones, I would endorse him today. But all that doesn’t mean he is unpalatable to conservatives. Conservatism is not necessarily first and foremost a political ideology. Indeed, for years it was defined as “the negation of ideology.” Michael Oakschott, the much overlooked British political scientist, Edmund Burke, the father of conservatism, and Benjamin Disraeli, the architect of practicable political conservatism, would all look quite favorably on McCain, because he is a man of conservative temperament and deeply patriotic ambition. He is honest and he could very well set a tone in this country of pride in our institutions of government.
Indeed, I am one of those people who believes you can tell a lot about a man by his enemies and his fans. For many conservatives McCain is damned by his followers. If The New York Times, Newsweek and the MSNBC crowd loves you, that’s two-and-half strikes against you in my book. I still believe this. But the promise of McCain could be that he is an exception to the rule. I don’t know for sure, but it is possible that his cross-party, cross-ideology appeal may have more to do with the fact that he is a great American than the fact that he is a secret liberal. That surely explains why so many true conservatives like him. Why can’t it be so for liberals too?
Pretty much everybody who’s ever seen Star Trek got the Amok Time reference. But so far only one person gets full credit for catching the phrase “Hollitacker.” About a dozen people guessed that it was from Mork and Mindy, which gets you a passing grade as, indeed, it was used often in that show. A Hollitacker is an Orkian word (phonetic spelling to be sure) for a battle or duel to the finish. Alas, only one person, and he knows who he is, pointed out that the word was first used in the epic battle between the Fonz and Mork, on Happy Days.
But the real correction I just gotta get off my chest — as it were — is my reference to “Pirates of Silicone Valley.”
On Wednesday, I wrote, “Not since I sat in on the casting call for the exotic film, Pirates of Silicone Valley, have I seen so many boobs in so many different directions.” Alas, I received numerous e-mails from people saying “Why are you calling those computer nerds ‘Boobs’?” Well, you guys are thinking of the Pirates of SiliCON Valley. I was coining a new fake porn title. Get it? Boobs? SiliCONE Valley? Get it? Get it? Boobs? Get it? Get it?
All right, never mind. I won’t even bother explaining Rogering Me, Sperms of Endearment and On Golden Blond.
Anyway, as we keep improving NR Online, we are trying to become a full service station. So this weekend we will start with some new material, including Rich Lowry’s reports from the front lines in South Carolina. In the meantime, check out Jessica Gavora’s analysis [Link defunct] of South Carolina mud-slinging. Also, I have written a guest HillaryWatch [Link defunct] on Anita Hill’s abysmal op-ed in today’s New York Times. Hopefully, our regular, secret, and increasingly popular HW correspondent will be back soon.