Carol Platt Liebau: Conservative Litmus-Testing?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Conservative Litmus-Testing?

Writing in the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol offers Republican voters something of a reality check. In "Waiting for Reagan," he decries the complaints about the alleged non-conservatism of our leading presidential contenders.

I'd argue that the "astonishing vigor" with which bloggers, talk radio show hosts and others have heaped "opprobrium" on their disfavored candidates is little more than a function of the undetermined state of the race. Because there is no "heir apparent" or prohibitive favorite (unusual for Republican presidential nominating contests), people understand that the race is up for grabs and that their opinion could actually have an impact. What's more, whoever wins the nomination will have a significant influence on the way that Republican principles (and, perhaps, conservative ones) are defined in the future -- so the stakes are large. Hence the heat surrounding some of the debates.

And although the apparent disorder (and sometimes, discord) can be unsettling for Republicans -- who are usually somewhat staid and orderly about these matters -- the controversy may actually be a sign of health in the conservative movement. It's a sign that principles matter to our voters, and so do the candidates' ideas.

Contrast the arguments over John McCain vs. Mitt Romney vs. Mike Huckabee with the Democrat argument over Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama. Ours is about ideas -- who has the vision to carry on the conservative movement -- while theirs is about identity and politics, i.e. gender vs. race and who can win. It's noteworthy that one doesn't hear Hillary and Barack supporters arguing over who is more "liberal," or who best can carry on the tradition of Lyndon Johnson or Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton.

Nor does Kristol's valid point that all the GOP frontrunners are people of substance mean that all are equally conservative. John McCain's 82% rating from the ACU may not have all that much meaning -- it depends on which votes have been factored in. And it's worth pointing out that McCain's assault on the First Amendment (with campaign finance "reform"), America's borders (with his immigration bill), and his votes against tax cuts are not exactly the indicia of pure conservatism. What's more, it's asking a lot of conservatives that they support McCain, when so often he's shown little more than a dismissive, contemptuous attitude toward them.

With Huckabee, the problem isn't so much his conservative credentials (although lovers of small government can't find all that much to love in his Arkansas record). In my view, it's been his willingness to employ sectarian Christianity for political purposes.

Obviously, there's no Reagan in this field. But as I argued here some time ago, "The larger point, for those lost in Reagan nostalgia, is that they simply have to get over it. If there were a Ronald Reagan in every presidential field, he wouldn't be the giant that he is. We were lucky to have one of him in a lifetime -- is there anyone who realistically expects to get one every election cycle?"

2 Comments:

Blogger stackja1945 said...

Carol, with history to look back on. The question is why would anyone vote for a Dem when any GOP is preferable?

4:34 PM  
Blogger Marshall Art said...

I think conservatives are looking for someone close to Reagan. It's like looking for another Michael Jordan. You'll content yourself with someone "Jordan-like". I'd like someone "conservative-like" and Thompson (and Hunter was) is the most.

11:34 PM  

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