Monday, February 25, 2008

John O'Sullivan follows up on "the conservative interest" column

John O'Sullivan has written a follow up post in NRO's Corner explaining conservative deliberations regarding McCain and this November's election.
Ramesh and Derb both aim reasoned (and reasonable) criticism at my long piece last week on the circumstances in which voting against one's own party might be justifiable or, in extreme cases, even required. I've also discussed these arguments with Ramesh off-line. Since my original piece was—as Noel Coward said of Camelot — "longer than Parsifal but not as funny," I don't want to compound the offense by writing a long exercise in self-justification. So how about a short exercise in self-justification? Let me respond first to Ramesh:

1. It's true that I cited the "National Question" issues—immigration, multiculturalism, preferences—as a possible justification for defection. That was because I thought (and think) they are the issues most likely to provoke conservative voters to abandon the GOP. My own objections to the Senator's policies go somewhat wider—his enthusiasm for the EU, for instance, as well as the usual conservative moans.

2. Sure, the same indictment could have been mounted against President Bush in 2000 and 2004. Readers with long memories may recall that I actually levelled such charges against the candidate, especially in 2000 before 9/11 had kicked in. One can agree with Ramesh that consistency requires those who supported Bush then to back McCain now. Equally, however, one can make the opposite case: namely, we never liked these policies and we can now see that, in addition to their other harmful effects, they are widely unpopular and damaging to the GOP. Four or eight years more of them and the party will be in ruins.

3. Of course, some overriding moral issue may override (as they do) these calculations. For some of my colleagues, Victor in particular, the war in Iraq and the wider war on terror are between them such an issue. I respect that view and am close to sharing it, but because I think that nation-building in America is more important than nation-building in Iraq, that alone would not be decisive. For me — as I believe, also for Ramesh — the pro-life issue is such an overriding consideration. You can see where that is driving me — either to the Senator or to some third-party candidate who combines pro-life views with soundness on the National Question, the EU, etc., etc..

Now to Derb who rides boldly up to what seems to me to be my strongest point favoring Obama and swings his ball and chain at it with his usual elan. He asks if a President Obama, far from being a force for racial and ethnic reconciliation in America, might not be a disaster for it — if his presidency was a failure and if non-blacks deserted the Democratic party in droves as a result. He mentions the awful warning of the Carter presidency and goes on to suggest that a Black Jimmy Carter would be even more catastrophic for America. However:

1. Very few presidents fail and visibly and comprehensively as Jimmy Carter. Even if one takes a kind view of his administration, as such distinguished Carter appointees as Zbig Brzezinski do, there is no quarrelling with the fact that most Americans and many Democrats thought he had been a failure in 1980 and for many years afterwards. This was exceptional.

2. Even so the Carter administration did not destroy the Democrats. He scored a respectable 45 percent of the two-party vote in 1980 against the most brilliant politician in postwar American history. Twelve years after his defeat the Democrats regained the White House. They held the House of Representatives for all this period until 1994. So the prospect of a post-Obama Democratic meltdown is unlikely even if Obama is regarded as having failed disastrously.

3. Those white, Asian, and Latino voters who are open to the temptation of thinking a Black candidate would be simply incapable of governing competently are highly unlikely to vote for Obama in the first place; and those white, Asian and Latino voters who are moved to vote for him in this election in order to advance the cause of racial reconciliation are unlikely to abandon him in droves if he performs as badly as Carter or even just not very well. So a collapse of the Democratic vote and the party's transformation into a racially uniform rump seems to me to be a paranoid nightmare.

4. Whatever else he is, Obama is a smart man. His campaign shows that. So I doubt he would repeat Carter's mistakes when the evidence shows that they failed the tests of both practicality and popularity. The current version of Carterism is too close to the original to be mistaken for something else. In this context, unlike most of my colleagues, I think Obama's rhetoric of American unity is probably a better guide to his potential presidency than his liberal voting record.

Well, it's turned out to be a long exercise in self-justification after all.