Bill Murchison

Has conservatism become an unaffordable luxury in the California governor's race?

It depends -- I presume to judge through binoculars -- on two factors: 1) what you mean by "conservatism" and 2) how urgently you want a Republican governor.

California conservatives appear riven over Arnold Schwarzenegger (hereinafter plain Arnold, due to the tedium connected with typing a 14-letter surname).

"We have to stop this government from overtaxing, overspending and over-regulating," Arnold said the other day. Of course, that's a conservative message. But flip to the social issues -- abortion, gay rights and the like -- and Arnold, from the conservative standpoint, flubs it. He's on the same side, generally speaking, as Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. A conservative Baptist pastor tells The New York Times: "I can't bring myself to vote for someone who is unabashedly pro-gay."

Even so, the influential and unquestionably conservative Lincoln Club of Orange County, Calif., put such reservations on the shelf the other day. It endorsed Arnold, mainly, it would appear, on account of his electability.

The prominent economic and social conservative Bill Simon reinforced this view shortly afterward by bowing out of the race. Simon's thesis: Too many major Republicans (himself, Arnold and two others) spoil the electoral broth, potentially clinching a victory for Democrat Cruz Bustamente. A poll released over the weekend showed Bustamente leading Arnold but the Republicans together handily outdistancing Bustamente.

It is not for outsiders presumptuously to advise locals on local matters. (That's for federal judges, I suppose.) But the conservative predicament in California resonates outside California and deserves at least passing consideration.

Social (i.e., pro-life, pro-family) and economic (i.e., pro-free market) conservatives fail to line up automatically these days. They profess different interests and convictions. Some of us have watched this thing come on for a long time. It disappoints but doesn't shock.

If you define "conservatism" as "skepticism of government's ability to solve any but basic problems," you may, but also may not, want government prescribing particular moral practices. Morality, you may assert, is a private matter, one from which government should stay away. This would mean, in practice, that the government should allow abortion and prohibit school prayer and that, additionally, it should affirm sexuality in all its forms.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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