The Corner

What We Should Want

I posted a bit yesterday about Jonah Goldberg’s column endorsing Howard Dean for the Democratic nomination. Jonah is, of course, hardly alone in wishing for a Dean victory. The wishes of conservatives in this matter are mostly irrelevant, but it still strikes me that this is not what to wish for. What we should want for the Democrats is what we should want for the Republicans and, indeed, for ourselves: to be brought further into the fullness of truth.

But here is a practical consideration to keep in mind. I think it is quite reasonable to assume that there will be at least 45 Democratic senators next year, and that Republicans will need a few of them to enact measures to cut taxes, reform the legal system, fight terrorism, and move Social Security in a free-market direction. Under which scenario are we more likely to see cooperation from the necessary number of Democrats? One in which Dean comes close to beating Bush? One in which Dean is crushed by Bush? Or one in which Dean cannot even win the Democratic nomination? I would argue that cooperation is more likely in the second than in the first scenario, but even more likely in the third. In this last scenario, Dean, and rejectionism toward the Bush agenda, fails to prevail even in the Democratic party. Democratic senators who want to be president do not reach the conclusion that the only way to get the nomination is to pander to the left. They may even reach the conclusion that such pandering is dangerous.

Now, if Dean as nominee causes the Democrats to lose, say, 5 Senate seats more than they otherwise would, his nomination would produce a gain in conservatives’ ability to enact legislation. But I very much doubt that his nomination will prove that catastrophic. In which case it is likely to retard, not advance, the achievement of a conservative legislative agenda.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.