Barring some virtually unprecedented event, in January 2001 either
George W. Bush or Al Gore will be sworn in as the next president of the
United States. In today’s media-blitzed ambiance, the president has
more power than the framers of the Constitution envisioned. Until,
therefore, we conservatives can chain the president to his
constitutional limitations by restoring the doctrine of explicitly
enumerated powers, we’d better take seriously who’s going to be sitting
in the Oval Office in February 2001. (We’ve had to worry about another
particular posture while the present occupant was in the Oval Office,
but we won’t go into that.) To my conservative and Christian
libertarian colleagues, therefore, I submit the following case for
George W. Bush.
A Marriage for Better or Worse
First, most conservatives for better or worse, have coalesced around
Bush (sorry about that, Buchanan Brigade). Bush’s cause wasn’t hurt by
John McCain’s stupid (and I mean really stupid) assault on Pat
Robertson, Jerry Falwell and the religious right. McCain’s main appeal
to the Republican establishment was his alleged competitiveness with Al
Gore among independents and Democrats in the general election. There
are at least three problems with this appeal. 1) You have to win the
Republican nomination before you get to run on the ticket in the fall.
2) You don’t win the Republican nomination by battering the religious
right. 3) It’s not self-evident that Bush cannot win over in the fall
many of the same independents and Democrats that McCain did in a few of
the primaries. After all, three days is an eternity in the political
cycle. What could eight months bring forth? If Bush won the Texas
governorship with a broad coalition, he may just be able to pull it off
in the other 49 states this November. (Al Gore, don’t count your
chickens too soon.)
Not Ideal, But Electable
Second, while we conservatives realize that Bush is not, from our
perspective, an ideal candidate, he is now the only electable candidate
with anything resembling even a few diluted conservative convictions.
Ideal, no. Electable, yes. Is this distinction important? Yes. In
this country, you don’t get to govern unless you win. We could never
get an ideal conservative candidate in the present political climate.
By the time an ideal conservative did the things necessary to become an
ideal candidate, he would no longer be an ideal conservative. In today’s
democracies, winning is all about capturing the middle. We
conservatives may lament this (I surely do), but we’d better learn to
live with it for now. It won’t do to say that we shouldn’t vote for the
lesser of two evils. All true conservatives believe in some version of
Original Sin, so every vote in every election is a vote for the lesser
of two evils (in other words, nobody’s perfect). We can either maintain
our purity and lose nobly, or support an impure but electable candidate
while we try to purify the electorate so we can win nobly with a purer
candidate 25 years from now. Conservatives who want short-term
solutions to long-term problems may chafe at this strategy; but if they
do, they betray their conservative principles of slow, incremental
Instant gratification — even (perhaps especially) political instant
gratification — is not a conservative principle.
Third, and most importantly, there are substantive differences
between the views and polices of Bush and Gore. Not as many differences
as we conservatives would prefer, mind you, but differences nonetheless.
Bush is a country-club Republican, with all that entails. He’s not as
fervently opposed as we’d like to big government, elective abortion, gun
control, and global military interventionism. He’s more in the mold of
Dwight Eisenhower or George Bush Sr. than Ronald Reagan or Steve Forbes.
Let’s face it. Bush is a standard, moderate conservative.
While, however, George W. Bush may not be a rock-ribbed, true-blue
conservative, Al Gore is at heart a red-blooded, genuine-article
liberal. In the primaries, he and Bill Bradley were trying to outdo
themselves to convince their Democratic constituency of their real,
heartfelt, liberal convictions. In the primaries, Bush may simply
have been pandering to conservatives, but Gore is a sincere leftist.
In his California TV ads, Gore emphasized three of his well-known
positions: 1) He’ll champion the environment; 2) he’ll oppose the
“extreme right wing”; 3) he’ll protect the “women’s right to choose.”
Let’s take just that last one. If you accept the premise that the
unborn child is a human, as most conservatives do, then elective
abortion (except perhaps to defend the mother’s life) is murder. It
won’t do for moderate conservatives to whine that this is “dangerous
rhetoric.” What silliness. If you accept the premise that an unborn
child is a human being, trying to establish some other legal standard
for the treatment of the child’s life is illogical, inane and
That being so, what Gore really says is that a chief plank of his
campaign is a pledge that he will keep it legal for mothers (and
sometimes fathers) to collaborate with doctors to murder babies. If you
believe that an unborn child is a human, you have no right to respond,
“This is offensive rhetoric.” Of course, it’s offensive. Murder is
offensive. And Gore fearlessly supports it — just as long, of course,
as the murder victims are legally defenseless children in a mother’s
Bush, at least, labels himself pro-life, lukewarm though his
commitment may be. In a Bush administration, it is almost certain that
Roe v. Wade would not be aborted. The point, however, is that it is
certain that in a Gore administration, it would be championed. Bush
may not appoint pro-life justices, but Gore unquestionably wouldn’t.
The same is true on other issues. Bush may not puncture a bloated
state, but Gore will only gorge it. Bush may not reverse gun control,
but Gore will surely escalate it. Bush may not privatize education, but
Gore will only politicize it further. Just think of it this way: Al Gore
is Bill Clinton without the obvious sexual vices. A more efficient
liberal. Not a pretty picture, in other words.
Buying Time to Win
In supporting Bush, we are buying time to maneuver, so that 25 years
from now we may not need to support a presidential candidate with Bush’s
convictions (or lack of them). Think carefully: if Gore wins, we’ll
have to fight the sorts of battles that will keep us from fighting
battles to move the country to the right. We’ll have to fight battles
just to keep it from moving left. You can’t fight to outlaw abortion
when you have to fight to keep the government from outlawing pro-life
activism. You can’t push for greater respect for the family when you
are impelled to combat expanded legal preferences for homosexuality.
You can’t win broader educational choice while you must oppose broader
state intervention in education.
A Republican status-quo agenda is not great, but it beats an activist
liberal agenda hands down. You lose time when you’re forced to play on
the other guy’s field and by his rules, even if you win the game.
With Bush, we won’t get an ideal conservative president, but we will
get a better playing field. We can keep the prime conservative issues
up front — scaling back civil government, protecting human life (in
Serbia as well as the mother’s womb), championing the traditional
family, expanding religious and economic freedom, and so on. With Bush,
we will be fighting, though we won’t be fighting for our lives, as we
likely will be with Gore. We may lose slowly with Bush, but losing
slowly leaves time to start winning.
Losing quickly with Al Gore doesn’t afford that luxury.