The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The conservatives' problem

The Washington Examiner, a paper that I read regularly, is a rather conservative newspaper; one in fact that makes me, by comparison, seem a liberal. And a lot of the columnists in the Examiner are, similarly, a lot too far right for me, and my criticisms of these columnists in this blog have been numerous. But I've noticed one of the Examiner's columnists with whom I usually agree: Noemie Emery — and readers of this blog will find my references to her columns pretty much uniformly favorable. And today's column is not an exception to this. I quote her column here:

Pity the conservatives — they certainly do pity themselves — in their perennial election-year plaint. Since time immemorial — 1988 — they have presented large fields in primary contests, and each time they have been forced to take squishes and Bushes, mavericks, Doles and McCains. They suspect plots, but the reasons are simple: The candidates they have backed have been pretty appalling. And the market for a genuine movement conservative may not be as big as they think.

Putting second things first, they fool themselves with statistics, noting that the number of self-described conservatives (something over 40 percent) is twice as large as that of self-described liberals. They assume they have a built-in and reliable base. But the word “self-described” is the problem. Mitt Romney would call himself a conservative, as would Rudy Giuliani, as would John McCain. People conservative on only some issues describe themselves as conservative. If the question were phrased to fit movement conservatives, the number might be cut in half.

Even among the Republican primary electorate, the largest plurality is “somewhat conservative,” and they are the ones who elect the McCains. In recent primaries, Rick Santorum won among evangelicals who self-described as “very conservative.” Evangelicals who weren't “very conservative” and the very conservative who weren't evangelicals voted for Romney. Very conservative strong evangelicals do not define the Republican Party. These leaders don't know their own base.

As to part A, let's go to Jim Geraghty's words: “I would argue that a conservative presidential candidate who aspires to be the actual president, not just the metaphorical president of the conservative movement or the president of a faction of the movement, has to clear a bar of credibility,” such as actual record at governing, the ability to form and maintain coalitions, and the ability to establish a level of trust. The sad fact is that while the establishment picks have been Senate leaders (Dole and McCain), effective state governors (Romney and Bush 43), and a vice president, CIA head and ambassador (Bush 41), the right-wing insurgents have largely been vanity candidates, activists somewhat far out on the fringes, and people who never held office at all.

In 1988, it was Dole and Bush 41 against Jack Kemp, Pete du Pont and Pat Robertson. In 1992 it was Bush 41 against Pat Buchanan. In 1996, it was Dole against Buchanan, Phil Gramm and Steve Forbes. And in 2000 it was Forbes, Orrin Hatch, Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes against Bush 43 and McCain.

(The outlier was 2008, when all the major candidates were the size of a president, and all were strong Reaganites on at least one set of issues — McCain and Giuliani had War on Terror credentials; Romney had business credentials; and Mike Huckabee had social conservatives' backing. All were suspected of moderate leanings elsewhere.)

The 2012 contest upped the ante on vanity candidates, with six or more cranks, losers and retreads against the lone figure of Mitt. In the last 24 years, of all the insurgents who have run to the right of eventual winner, only four — Hatch, Gramm, Rick Perry, and Kemp — had the right resumes to be running for president. The first three were nonstarters. Kemp's attempt to run as the true heir to Reagan was derailed by the claims of Reagan's loyal vice president, the elder George Bush.

Why was Reagan the last “real conservative” to win the nomination and the election that followed? He was the last and only with the experience and the political talent to reach beyond his own base. If conservatives want to win, they should try running a good politician. Who knows? It could work again.

As usual, Ms. Emery makes a lot of sense. Though, if the truth be told, I think that it's probably a good thing that “the right-wing insurgents have largely been vanity candidates, activists somewhat far out on the fringes, and people who never held office at all.” Because I certainly do not want an extreme right-winger. Some of the people she has mentioned as “establishment candidates” — people like Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Bob Dole — have been the kind of person I really wanted to see in the Presidency.

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