11 January, 2008

Elections: a form of vice?

I realize that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried & found to be worse. (Thank you, Churchill.) I realize it more and more with each passing day. This current election is surely a form of vice, the way it irritates me so. It has even turned me into a conspiracy theorist!

After reading the latest nonsense online, I've had enough. Now you'll have to suffer my long-simmering political rant. Apologies; profoundest apologies.

I've been reading conservatives since I don't know how long, and the most vocal Republican partisans have been wishing for some time that one of the "true" conservatives (Romney or Thompson) would savage McCain for not being a "true" conservative.

Lies, damn lies, and statistics
The American Conservative Union provides a useful tool for evaluating such statements: they rate Congressmen's voting records. Thompson has a long senate record. At retirement, Thompson's lifelong rating was 86. McCain's record that same year was (drumroll please)... 84.

That's not a typo. I didn't exchange the two numbers. McCain's record was 84. A measly two points distinguishes a "true" conservative from a "false" one!

The assault on the First Amendment
Perhaps it's McCain's "assault on the First Amendment". McCain was a sponsor of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Law, also called McCain-Feingold, which has sent many conservatives into paroxysms of apoplectic hyperbole. "True" conservatives have suggested that "true" conservative candidates point to this example of McCain's infidelity.

Alas, Thompson voted repeatedly and consistently in favor of McCain's bill. You can check the Senate record or the ACU report; I just did. The votes weren't held only in 2002 but in prior years, too. McCain had a hard time getting the law passed & introduced it over several years.

Holding to principle vs. selling out
The ACU does not rate governors, so we can't discuss Romney's record with any convenient statistics. However, ample evidence from Romney's history as a governor and as a candidate for Senate provide ample fodder for a convincing argument that he is not a "true" conservative. I won't waste any of your time rehashing that here, because I happen to believe in Reagan's 11th commandment even though I'm not a Republican. I won't even speak ill of the Democrats on this website.

Granted, Romney says something different today than he did only 2 or 3 years ago. Did he change his mind and convert, so that he is now a "true" conservative"? I supposed that's true, if "true" conservatism is some sort of religion. I'll admit, however grudgingly, that an honest man can change his mind about things over time. But without a record to back it up, there is no evidence. I haven't seen much evidence offered from his term as governor that backs up the claim that Romney is a "true" conservative.

But independents like McCain!
Some vocal Republicans complain that independents vote for McCain during the primaries, diluting the "true conservative" voice. They complained about this in 2000, too.

Come on, guys. The best candidate for a party ought to attract independent voters, not merely the party faithful. That's the point of a semi-open primary. You should want to attract people of different viewpoints.

One reason for Reagan's success is that he attracted the so-called "Reagan Democrats". That's right: registered Democrats voted for Reagan. Was he not a "true" conservative?

There are, of course, parties that attract only voters who adhere to a narrow ideology. These are known as third parties: Libertarians, Socialists, Communists, etc. They are most famous for never winning elections.

In any case—more lies, damn lies, and statistics—McCain lost the "true Republican" vote to Romney by a mere 1% in New Hampshire, and earned 30% of the "true conservative" vote. If you look at "somewhat" conservative voters rather than of "very" conservative—since "very" conservative can include Birch Society types, Lefebvrist Catholics, Libertarians, and the like—McCain beats Romney. Which is the true conservative voice: the Birchers, or the Reaganites?

Don't you learn your lessons, people?
Speaking of slavish adherence to party loyalty: the Republican-majority Congress followed this so-called principle during the last few years of its miserable existence. Speaker Hastert argued that before a bill could be considered by the House of Representatives, it had to have the approval of a "majority of the majority".

What did that "purity" win the conservative movement? A corrupt, un-conservative Congress that ran up the deficit and accomplished less and less with each passing year. In 2006 they failed even to pass a budget. This bunch was roundly & rightly turned out of office in 2006, giving way to a Democratic majority that shows no sign of being displaced anytime soon. Republicans called their strategy of governing and campaigning a "permanent Republican majority". Ha!

The truth is out there!
What do these vocal Republicans have against McCain? In my no-so-well-informed-opinion, they're wedded to the Republican establishment, a group that hates McCain passionately because he's not a "team player".

In 2000, the Republican nomination narrowed quickly to a contest between McCain and Bush. Bush was favored by the Republican governors at that time, a powerful group who control the party machinery in their states. (That's not part of the conspiracy theory; this is a real benefit of being governor.) As governor of Texas, Bush knew them and got along with them. Bush, remember, did not run as a "true" conservative. He ran as a "compassionate" conservative.

McCain scored successes against Bush in the New Hampshire and Michigan primaries. His victory in Michigan embarassed the governor, John Engler, who had promised victory to Bush. The Republican establishment was in a panic.

Their solution was rumor and innuendo: push polls in South Carolina planted the notion that McCain had fathered a mixed-race, illegitimate daughter. Of course, it wasn't true, but the damage was done. Fathering an illegitimate, mixed-race child is the sort of thing that gets you elected to the Senate in South Carolina, but apparently they consider it a barrier to the presidency. Whatever.

These vocal Republicans promoted Bush as the "true" conservative, and even today most of them sing Bush's praises. Yet Bush's administration has not been a conservative one; quite the contrary. It has been responsible for the growth of a larger, more powerful, less competent government that provides more entitlements (opposed by McCain, incidentally) and whose officials prize connections and party loyalty higher than merit and qualifications. It has given a bad name to conservatism. If you doubt me, two names suffice: Harriet Miers and Alberto Gonzales. Bush's administration resembles Johnson's more than Reagan's, let alone Gingrich's Congress. Think of Reagan's (in?)famous quote against expanding government's role in society:
Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.
Does that sound like the philosophy behind the Bush administration? Only if you turn its meaning on its head!

Republican demagogues invested so much emotional energy into opposing McCain in 2000 that they couldn't exactly go back and endorse him in 2008, could they? I have wondered if they have come to believe their own vitriol from back then. Hence Bush, Thompson, and Romney magically become "true conservatives", whereas McCain becomes a RINO (Republican in Name Only). Apparently Judge Bork isn't the only conservative who had to suffer from saying what he actually believed.

The consequence
After Huckabee's win in Iowa, some of the more intellectual of these Republicans began to fret about a crackup in the Reagan coalition: social conservatives are abandoning economic conservatives!

One can't have it both ways. If you invest so much energy into denouncing McCain for not being "true" conservative, then contort your logic in such a way that Bush, Romney, and Thompson are "true" conservatives, then you cracked the conservative movement yourselves. I'd put the precise date somewhere around the South Carolina primary of 2000; that's the last time I remember a true conservative having a chance at running the country.

He lost.

Disclaimer: I gave a laughably small amount of money to the McCain campaign in 2000. I gave last year, a little more but still laughably small. I don't expect him to win.

No comments: