Jewish World Review Feb. 16, 2000 /10 Adar I, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- They tell us that conservatism is dead -- that Republican presidential contenders better swim to the political center before they drown in the fringes of an outdated philosophy. Don't believe it, Mr. Bush.
Liberals never conceded the widespread appeal of conservative ideology, as embodied in Ronald Reagan. They attributed his popularity to his charismatic personality.
Lately, though, many conservatives have begun to sing from this same hymnbook. If conservatism still possessed its allure, they say, purist Steve Forbes would have cakewalked to the GOP nomination.
Now that John McCain's campaign has built up steam on the backs of conservatives, the naysayers are claiming vindication. Some Bush supporters are buying into this thinking, saying, for example, that Bush got off track with his call for tax cuts.
Before drawing such dramatic conclusions we should consider the unusual impact Clinton's legacy is having on the political dynamic.
George Bush's phenomenal popularity and unprecedented fundraising success throughout most of 1999 can be attributed to Clinton-revulsion. Republicans, especially, wanted to cleanse the system, and viewed Bush as the most likely vehicle toward that end. Once his so-called aura of invincibility imploded in the New Hampshire primary, his campaign seemed to lose steam nationwide. No longer was he seen as the only one who could deliver the GOP and the nation from the Clinton-Gore vise-grip. And as McCain proved that he could appeal to Independents, he caused many to rethink their allegiance to Bush.
To the extent that bruised and battle-weary Republicans long for a man of character to be president, conservative ideology indeed may have been temporarily placed on the back burner. But as the campaign unfolds, we can observe that it's making its way back to the forefront.
Incredibly, McCain supporters are comparing their candidate to Reagan, saying only he can appeal to Independents and Reagan Democrats and that Bush's move to the right has made him unacceptable to swing voters.
They are mixing apples and oranges. McCain's attraction of Independents and Democrats does not make him a Reaganite. Nor does it prove that Bush is incapable of drawing from the center as he has done so successfully in Texas.
Reagan was able to win converts among moderates partly because of this nation's domestic and international malaise during the Carter years. He didn't compromise his principles. He didn't shift his philosophy to bring swing voters into the fold. Rather he demonstrated to them how they could be part of the prosperity. Bush preaches a similar message of inclusion.
McCain, by contrast, has markedly shifted many of his ideological positions, degenerating from an 86 percent conservative voting record to 68 percent during the last year, almost as if he had planned this centrist coup from the beginning. But his main appeal to Independents is his Perotistic exploitation of their discontentment with the system. As pandemonium during a recent Reform Party meeting showed, most reformers are interested more in process than ideology.
New Hampshire exit polls showed that voters perceived McCain to be a man of greater character and conviction than Bush, leading many analysts to dismiss the role of substantive policies in the equation. What they fail to understand is that Bush's "inevitability" was eroded precisely because of the perception that he was weak on substance. Appearing wishy-washy on ideas in turn damaged his image as a strong leader, because all leaders must be guided by the rudder of ideas.
So far, McCain has been able to achieve sufficient conservative support because of his past voting record and his war record, which appeal to their patriotic sensibilities. Eventually, though, his abandonment of the conservative base will do him in.
Since New Hampshire, Bush has been rehabilitating his image as a leader with convictions. To accelerate this process he should focus on McCain's record, contrasting past with present. In doing so, he will get two bangs for his buck by crippling McCain with the conservative base and undermining his credibility among Independents as a man whose primary appeal is character. Why would a man of such character change so much on the issues so conveniently close to his presidential bid?
Sure, presidential candidates have to have personal appeal to be
elected but among most voters, their policies are still
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