by N. A. Halkides 5/13/14
Recently I got involved in a surprising contretemps on NRO over an article profiling Rick Santorum, who is clearly contemplating another run for the Presidency. I was surprised at how many people could not see Santorum’s liabilities, including the redoubtable Cleanthes, and picked up a surprising ally in the person of CC Writer, who will be remembered I’m sure by some here on ST. I argued that despite appearances, Santorum was not really Conservative (CC labeled him a “crypto-Progressive” which seems technically correct to me if a bit unwieldy). However, fully justifying that conclusion is not my purpose today; rather, I want to point out the possible pitfalls in judging a Presidential candidate on the basis of just a few issues.
Sticking with Santorum for just a minute, his concern for the American family is no doubt sincere and of course shared by many of us Conservatives; likewise, he is correct in pointing to the plight of the American middle class. But Santorum has no commitment at all to free-market economics (the solution for the problems of the American middle-class, as it happens) and probably does not comprehend the nature of contemporary Leftism, which to be an effective President he would have to wage war against.
Or consider a hypothetical Libertarian candidate (one may substitute Ron Paul or Rand Paul here if desired). If you were an unwary voter of Conservative inclinations, you might hear his views on the need to abolish or at least audit the Federal Reserve and think, “That sounds good to me.” Our Libertarian candidate might also make a speech on the necessity of abolishing the Departments of Education and Energy – wonderful! How could we as Conservatives oppose such a thing? It might be some time before we encountered the candidate’s nutty foreign policy views, or realized he favored open borders and “getting the government out of marriage”. (Of course, ST readers already know all these things about Libertarianism, as several of us on this site have basically taken it apart at its creaking joints).
How about the media’s favorite Republican, Senator John (Maverick) McCain? McCain is less a maverick than he is an intellectually incoherent loose cannon, but how is it he became considered “Conservative” by anyone when he frequently attacks Conservatives, favors amnesty for illegal aliens, and wants to censor political speech (see the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law)? The answer is that McCain has always been an opponent of abortion, which is recognized as a Conservative position but is of course not all of Conservatism. McCain didn’t really fool too many people except for being even further to the Left than they thought, and his unfortunate nomination in 2008 was due more to his involvement in a three-way race against Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, but it’s still helpful to use him as a test case for any set of criteria we might develop.
We could multiply these examples almost without limit, but I think the point is clear: you can’t properly judge a Presidential candidate on the basis of a few issues; we really need to understand his entire philosophy of government (if he has one). I would suggest that if he doesn’t have one, he’s unsuitable as a candidate because I do not think we can defeat Leftism without an explicitly Conservative candidate and program. And if I may, I’d like to humbly reprise my short summary of Conservatism (presented in What is Conservatism?) as a practical yardstick for judging the men who would lead us:
“American Conservatism is dedicated to the preservation of those governmental and non-governmental institutions which have proven their worth over time, and it rests upon these four pillars: (1) a belief in limited government and the necessity of considerably reducing the size of the current Leviathan; (2) a belief in traditional morality and the worth of every individual life; (3) a foreign-policy that is nationalist in recognizing American interests and internationalist in recognizing our place among the nations of the world coupled to a commitment to a strong national defense; (4) the sanctity of life, including babies still in the womb.”
Notice that applying these standards would quickly expose McCain and our Libertarian candidate as un-Conservative and therefore unsuitable (Santorum is a more difficult case but would ultimately fail by criterion #1, which I should probably rewrite). • (1915 views)