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Jewish World Review March 1, 2000 /24 Adar I, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Sticking it to and sticking up for the Right wing --
THE LOWEST POINT in the Republican campaign so far had nothing to do with "negative" campaigning (a media-generated sin in any case). It was the total lack of courage displayed by both John McCain and George W. Bush on the subject of the confederate flag flying over the South Carolina state house.

Neither candidate would commit himself. Neither would say to flag enthusiasts: "When you withdraw slavery and segregation, of what exactly does your heritage consist that cannot be represented by the stars and stripes?" It isn't as if the stars and bars have adorned the capital since the American Revolution. The flag was erected as a symbol of contempt for the civil-rights movement in 1962.

Why wouldn't Bush and McCain say so? Because, garden-variety politicians that they are, they were afraid that it would cost them the votes of white conservatives, a constituency they couldn't afford to sacrifice.

Something like the same sort of thinking must have informed George W. Bush's decision to deliver that ill-fated speech at Bob Jones University. -McCain and the ever-obliging national media (who have conveniently forgotten McCain's failure to denounce the Confederate flag) have hung that visit so tightly around Bush's neck that it's practically choking him. Certainly Bush deserved criticism for his poor judgment in choosing to address Bob Jones University, but the accusation McCain is spreading -- that Bush is tolerant of anti-Catholic bigotry and racism - is ridiculous. (This from the fellow who promised an uplifting, positive campaign!)

In point of fact, Bush's visit to Bob Jones reveals the opposite of what McCain's nastiest operatives imply. His visit shows that he, like his father, is actually somewhat remote from conservative Republicanism. He is, don't forget, Mr. Compassionate Conservatism. And only a few months ago he was scolding his party's right wing for worrying about our national "slouch toward Gemorrah."

That's the real George W. That's the guy who worked well with Democrats in Texas, learned Spanish to reach out to the Hispanic constituency, and embraces most of the progressive conservative ideas touted by think tanks.

None of those things is bad. Several, particularly learning Spanish, are quite laudable (some are wondering when he will master English, but never mind).

But after losing New Hampshire, Bush decided to veer right. And because he doesn't know the right very well, he figured he had to do Bob Jones. In his heart, he is really a Bush after all -- an essentially country-club Republican who thinks that conservative Republicans really are racists and xenophobes.

No doubt there are some white conservatives in South Carolina who might punish a candidate for denouncing the Confederate flag or lecturing the Bob Jones students about tolerance. But it's a safe bet that most conservatives are not moved by those questions. In fact, most conservatives are offended by racism. This is not 1965.

Above all, what most conservatives are pining to hear from a presidential candidate right now is a clarion denunciation of the moral, spiritual and financial corruption of the Clinton years. Much has been made, correctly, of McCain's valorous history and his natural fit for the role of anti-Clinton, but few have noticed that McCain has also made sharp criticism of this administration a key part of his stump speech. Bush has not, and it has hurt him.

But conservatives would also thrill to see a candidate who could take the battle right to the Democrats (don't hold your breath for McCain to undertake this task). Where is the outcry about the two Democratic presidential candidates truckling to race hustler Al Sharpton? Where is the outrage at liberal Democrats who send their own children to private schools yet refuse to permit choice for those trapped in failing inner-city schools?

Where is the demand for a coherent foreign policy and the denunciation of the cultural pollution coming from Hollywood?

There is plenty more. The military needs to be remasculinized. The government put on a diet. And the trend toward balkanization, aka the spoils system -- whether racial, sexual, ethnic, or otherwise -- must be reversed.

That's what conservatives want to hear. Any true conservative would need no instruction. But it is offered here for those who do -- gratis.

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate