August 31, 2004,
New York, N.Y. On Monday, a bunch of us NR-ers had a meeting with Senator George Allen who's running the GOP Senate election efforts. He said one thing that I think everyone would be well-advised (and I shall advise thee!) to keep in mind this week. He said (and I'm paraphrasing), "Look: I'm a Republican because the Republican party comes closest to my philosophy among the available choices. If there were a party that came closer, I'd probably join that. But I might be the only member."
Now, this isn't going to be another column about the differences between Republicans and conservatives. I'll probably write that one tomorrow.
No, what's inspiring to me is the maturity of the statement. It's simply a grown-up thing to say, particularly considering Allen's job. Keep your eye on the ideological ideal, but keep in mind that human institutions like Soylent Green are made of people. That's why the Republican party can't even be a perfect political operation, let alone one that will remake your whole life. An imperfect vessel for our political ideals, a political party will always disappoint if you're measuring with the yardstick of the ideals themselves. If, for example, the Catholic Church can't always live up to its principles even when it has "staffers" who've sworn their bodies and souls to the institution, how can we expect a political party largely made up of folks who have day jobs to be perfect?
Anyway, as I said, this isn't about conservatives vs. Republicans. The point is that the GOP really is the party of grown-ups. At the Democratic Convention, there was something of an intellectual trope running through much of the analysis (including my own). The Democratic party, it seemed, had become a movement unto itself. For nearly 30 years the Democrats were composed of many movements (please: no scatological jokes): the "women's movement," the labor movement, the civil-rights movement, the gay movement, etc. But this year the Democrats seemed to think that being a Democrat was a bigger deal a more central part of their identity than being a feminist or black or union etc.
One theory I have is that since liberals are so prone to the pathology of victimization, they have a tendency to cling to whichever status they perceive to be the most "victimized." Ever since the Florida recount, Democrats have been acting as if merely having a "D" on your voter-registration card signifies you as a suspect class in America. So, in the proud liberal tradition of boasting about the source of your low self-esteem, Democrats have absorbed their party into their identities. It's like a bad comic-book superhero whose costume bleaches into his skin and becomes a permanent part of his DNA.
But whatever the reason, the Democrats seemed to have convinced themselves that their party was not only the vessel for ideals, but the ideal itself in much the same way black nationalists and feminists talk about how if they could simply get their people in charge the Promised Land would, ipso facto, immanentize. So we heard, day after day after day, that all problems would be solved with a Democrat in office. Health care, a roaring economy, whatever: These things simply depended upon the physical presence of a Democrat in the Oval Office. John Edwards insisted that, merely by the force of John Kerry's being in charge, new, strong, loyal, steadfast, and incalculably valuable "allies" will emerge ex nihilo to fight by our side. Surveying the geopolitical map to discern who these allies might be, I found none. I thought for a moment that Kerry Naval vet that he is knew the location of the Lost City of Atlantis and would, as commander-in-chief, call his good friend Prince Namor to do battle with our enemies for us. But, alas, that is not the Democrats' plan. Their plan is to simply be Democrats, and that alone will make the world like it was before 9/11 and, even better, before George W. Bush was "elected" (the scare quotes are theirs). You see, the French didn't refuse to send troops to Iraq because they are French: They refused because George Bush is George Bush.
Indeed, such childishness has been the hallmark of the Democrats for more than a year. Recall Howard Dean's brilliant formulation during the primaries. Whenever he was asked why he favored repealing Bush's tax cuts, he said that he'd much rather trade Bush's tax cuts for Bill Clinton's economy as if the clock would automatically run backwards the moment a Bill Clinton manqué was in charge.
John Kerry himself takes a similar position by taking every position possible. For war, against war. For tax cuts, against tax cuts. Whenever he's cornered into actually having to be specific forget about consistent; that ship has sailed he gets sniffy and says, "Well, now you're just playing word games," or something to that effect. His convention bio film barely mentioned his 20 years in the Senate in part because his record is a stroll through liberal mediocrity, and in part because "the issues" don't matter very much. Kerry is two things the Democrats care about deeply: He is a) Not Bush and b) a Democrat.
But perhaps the epitome of liberal childishness came last night when Michael Moore flashed the "L" for loser symbol at John McCain when McCain was making a serious point about the hard, grown-up choices Bush faced. Like, whatever.
Last night's speeches reflected a very different party. Yes, yes, on the issues, of course, there are differences (though not as many as I would like). But also in outlook. For all of the whines from the anti-Bush crowd about how misleading it is to have McCain, Giuliani, Schwarzenegger, and other moderates speaking for the party at the convention, one thing they communicated fairly is the party's maturity. Yes, to varying degrees on various issues, these guys are "squishes" by conservative standards. But they understand that the Republican party has to be an imperfect vessel for many points of view, because that is the nature of political parties. The man in the White House always sets the agenda for his party well before and more thoroughly than he sets it for the country. So, if you feel you are to Bush's right on many issues as I do you feel that the party has gone too soft. If you find yourself to the left of Bush you think the party is too hard. But a grown-up has to ask, What are my choices in the realm of the possible, where there is no Lost City of Atlantis or French Army just over the horizon ready to come to the aid of any nation led by a Democrat? And in that realm, the choice is fairly obvious.
McCain and Giuliani's endorsements of Bush Monday night reflected that more than anything else. George W. Bush is the best option available in the range of possible options given the fact that we are at war. John Kerry is the best option for those who are in denial about the fact that we are at war.