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 A Strategy for Kerry 

January 29, 2004

After the first President Bush betrayed conservatives by raising taxes, in spite of his promise never to do so, many conservatives didn’t bother voting for him in 1992. This was one of the reasons he lost to Bill Clinton, who reenergized the conservative movement and brought about a Republican takeover of Congress in the 1994 elections. In the meantime, Clinton’s ambitious national health-care plan flopped.

Principled conservatives should hope that history repeats itself in 2004. If John Kerry wins the presidency, Republicans may start acting a bit like conservatives again. Under the current President Bush, party loyalty has made them supporters of further expansion of the Federal Government.

This election will be a battle of the big spenders. There isn’t much to choose between Bush and Kerry (or whoever the Democratic candidate turns out to be). But a Bush victory will ensure that the Republican Party will continue to betray conservatism.

Unfortunately, most self-identified conservatives don’t see it that way. For some reason, they continue to regard Bush as their guy — maybe because, like Richard Nixon, he truly annoys liberals in spite of all his efforts to appease them.

Kerry, a walking stereotype of liberalism, can probably win by simply toning down his rhetoric. If he avoids antagonizing and frightening conservatives, if he subtly resists the temptation to portray the election as a stark contest between opposed philosophies, a critical number of conservatives may simply stay home on Election Day.

[Breaker quote: Boring to victory]Fortunately for Kerry, this shouldn’t be hard. He’s a boring fellow. How boring? Well, let’s put it this way: If you loved Al Gore, you’ll like John Kerry. When you listen to him deliver the standard litany of liberal clichés, it’s impossible to feel that much is at stake. He’s perhaps the perfect candidate to de-energize Bush’s base. That’s what he needs to do.

Democrats really hate Bush; that’s what will bring them to the polls: fear and loathing. Republicans, on the other hand, don’t hate Kerry enough to rally against him; they hardly know him yet. He should do all he can to keep it that way. He needs a strategy of ennui. Don’t give the other side a reason to turn out to vote!

A passionless campaign will be good not only for Kerry, but also, ultimately, for conservatism. Kerry may seem an improbable savior for the conservative movement, but Bush is destroying it. It would be a disaster for that movement to allow Bush to identify his grab-bag politics with it.

Bush’s only intelligent enthusiasts are neoconservatives, who might better be called pseudoconservatives. They love him for giving them the war they’ve hungered for since his father’s presidency (even if it fell short of the “World War IV” they called for), and they don’t really mind that he promotes bigger government all over the place. After all, they revere the memory of Franklin Roosevelt and other icons of liberal Democrats. They’ve changed parties without changing principles.

The Iraq war, alias the War on Terror, has ceased to be a strength for Bush. By the time the fall campaign really begins, it may have become a huge minus. The costly occupation of Iraq (and, oh yes, Afghanistan) drags on pointlessly, and Bush has already abandoned his absurd insistence that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass murder that could threaten this country. Either his word or his judgment, or both, can’t be trusted. The country has quietly lost faith in him. For an incumbent seeking reelection, that’s very bad news.

Bush will face other discontents too, including economic ones. He has tried to change his party’s image, and he has succeeded only too well. It’s now impossible to imagine the Republicans as supplying a prudent brake on fiscally improvident Democrats; they’ve taught the country how staggering Federal deficits can be. “Compassionate conservatism” turns out to be neither compassionate nor conservative.

If Kerry wins the presidency, he’ll have his hands full just handling the mess Bush has left him. He won’t want to get us into new wars, and there won’t be much loose change to pay for new Federal programs. Besides, the Republicans will try to frustrate his initiatives.

Unless something unforeseeable happens, we can look forward to a dull campaign between a real liberal and a phony conservative. And for real conservatives, the duller the better.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2004 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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