Feb 8, 2008
Something is happening to the word "conservative" -- it's becoming, for lack of a better word, unfriendly.
It started with the immigration debate back in 2005, when, for the first time in my adult life, I didn't identify with the conservative movement. I couldn't get on board with what I found to be mean-spirited hysteria over illegal immigration, a problem that had been largely ignored for 30 years.
Now the word "conservative" is being used to bash John McCain. Yes, there are good reasons to find fault with McCain's conservatism, but to listen to talk-radio hosts, you would think McCain was Satan Incarnate. Perhaps they're using the opposition to McCain to build their audience, but I think it's having the opposite effect, as listeners like me switch channels to find more reasonable conversation (or simply the classical music channel).
McCain won Super Tuesday in spite of the vitriol poured out against him on the airwaves -- capped off by a silly remark from the man who used to be the leader of the Religious Right, Dr. James Dobson, to the effect that he wouldn't vote at all if McCain were the GOP nominee.
With Pat Robertson going for Giuliani and Dobson going for, well, Dobson, the Christian Right is badly in need of new leadership -- and, perhaps, the entire conservative movement as well.
I fear that people are turned off by the word "conservative" these days because it's being used as a cudgel -- not just to point out differences of principle but also to settle old scores. There are numerous "inside the beltway" stories behind the antipathy for McCain that are not being told, stories that are being transposed into matters of "principle."
Thus do many conservative leaders seek to inflict their personal grudges on the nation as a whole in the name of "conservatism."
No doubt when you live in the political world of Washington you develop your likes and dislikes -- even, sorry to say, your hates -- but it should be a matter of principle that the personal stays personal, as difficult as that may be at times.
The reasons McCain will probably become the nominee have as much to do with choices that were offered to the GOP as with the virtues of McCain himself. Romney only became the darling of conservatives when it became apparent that the McCain candidacy was suddenly and unexpectedly reborn.
It may be that the McCain candidacy is the best thing that could happen to the GOP at the present moment -- it will allow some fresh air to blow through the party, and the conservatives in it, so that we will be forced to take notice of how we sound to the world at large.
I'm not so sure that we conservatives have been sounding very congenial or, more importantly, convincing.
As we enter the season of the general election we are facing a man who sounds the note of hope, a man who does not use anger as a rhetorical weapon: Barack Obama.
If we make conservatism synonymous with angry denunciation, rather than reasoned and optimistic encouragement, we will lose the White House, and lose the battle for the protection of unborn life.