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Jewish World Review July 19, 1999/ 6 Av 5759

David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh
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Smith, Bush and the GOP -- MY NAGGING AMBIVALENCE positions me to address a question framed by a journalist e-mailer I respect: "David, are you going to write something about Bob Smith leaving the GOP? I'm interested in your thoughts."

I continue to believe the Republican Party is the best vehicle to promote the cause of freedom in this country. But I also empathize with the mounting frustration of fellow conservatives, including Sen. Smith.

Smith is no Moses. His exodus is not going to spark a Red Sea-event. He had no chance to win the nomination as a Republican and does not have a better one under any other banner.

But his high-profile departure, to the extent it symbolizes GOP unrest, is significant.

Many conservatives are angry, believing the party's establishment has rendered them ideologically homeless.

They perceive that since Reagan's heyday, the party leadership has consistently retreated from principled conservatism. And they have a point. The initial betrayal was President Bush's promise of a "kinder, gentler America." Then there was the new tax that violated his "no new taxes" pledge. Next, followed Clinton's unanswered bludgeonings of congressional Republicans. A brief respite intervened with the Contract With America and the Republican majority it produced. Within no time though, Republicans were reduced to impotence again. Conspiracy theorists might have concluded that they had fixed the fight. They believe their suspicions were vindicated when establishment favorite Bob Dole coasted to the nomination in 1996.

The penultimate blow was delivered when Senate Republicans agreed to an impeachment trial procedure that guaranteed Bill Clinton's acquittal.

The ultimate blow for some conservatives is now unfolding with GOP establishment favorite George W. Bush's ongoing coronation. This is just too pat for the active-minded out there. I mean Dubya, in addition to sharing his father's name, was a fellow member of "Skull and Bones." And sooner or later his closet membership in the Council on Foreign Relations is bound to be revealed.

Apart from the conspiracy theorists, the angst of mainstream conservatives is deep-seated and legitimate. They will not be mollified, nor silenced, by name-calling and ostracism. (I am convinced that Smith's decision was an act of conscience, and he should not be berated for it.)

Many disaffected conservatives though, are deceiving themselves into believing that the GOP establishment's backing of Dubya is solely responsible for his meteoric rise in this campaign.They seem blinded to the groundswell of grass-roots enthusiasm for his candidacy. There is no other way to explain his unprecedented fund raising and popularity among the people -- all of them, not just the establishment.

The establishment (whatever that nebulous term actually means), has not been his sole source of funds (of that $36 million, the average contribution was reportedly less than $500; hardly fat-cat material). Nor is it responsible for the national polls showing Bush exponentially ahead of his multitudinous rivals.

Smith is correct that the GOP establishment has not governed conservatively enough. He is mistaken, however, in scapegoating it for Dubya's popularity or for the abject failure of his own campaign.

The rejection of Dubya's GOP opponents does not represent a grass-roots rejection of conservatism. Factors beyond pure ideology also drive elections. Personality and charisma are major ones. Dubya soars above the pack in those departments. Plus, I think we'll find he's much more conservative than we are being led to believe. If his popularity remains, he could sweep in scores of congressional conservatives on his coattails.

There is no question that in many instances, Republican national politicians have grossly betrayed the conservative cause. Party infighting though, is nothing new. Eisenhower was no Reagan Republican and Nixon imposed wage and price controls. It took Ronald Reagan a generation to emerge victorious.

But we conservatives must decide whether our most prudent course of action is to abandon the party because it lacks monolithic purity or to continue to work within it to achieve our goals.

Meaningful change doesn't usually happen overnight. It took many years for socialism to gradually seep into our society and choke off the lifeblood of our liberties. It's going to take some time to roll it back. There will continue to be ups and downs, but incremental progress is being made (top marginal income tax rates decreased from 90 percent to 70 percent to 28 percent and back to 39.6 percent).

Should conservatives continue to strive for ideological purity? By all means! But we shouldn't be naive enough to expect it, nor abandon the party when it isn't achieved. That is the surest avenue to achieve the results we fear the most.

JWR contributor David Limbaugh is an attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a political analyst and commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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