Diana West

By now it's clear that John McCain's "blasphemy" on conservative principles is making some conservatives consider "apostasy" on Election Day -- not voting Republican.

A quick Google search shows such terminology popping up in campaign coverage, whether to describe the intensity of conservative disaffection with McCain's assaults on baseline conservatism ("McCain's "apostasy" on immigration, for example), or to indicate mock-horror at, say, Mitt Romney peeling the skin off a piece of fried chicken before eating it -- "blasphemy here in the South," according to CNN.

For deeply rooted cultural reasons, such terms serve as metaphors in our society. This helps explain how it is that President Bush, in this week's State of the Union address, could hold up as an example to the world how "Republicans and Democrats can compete for votes and cooperate for results at the same time."

I haven't noticed much cooperation over the last few decades, but ours is a peaceable, if sharp-elbowed, political phenomenon well worth showing "them," as Bush said. Of course, it wasn't entirely clear who Bush meant by "them" -- those he called "our enemies" and "the terrorists," or those he called called "men and women who are free." It also wasn't clear what he meant by "enemies," either. And even as the president reminded us, "We are engaged in the defining ideological struggle of the 21st century," he never defined the ideology we struggle against. The fact that "the terrorists oppose every principle of humanity and decency we hold dear" had to suffice.

Such vagueness marked his seventh and final annual address as strangely vacuous. Writing at the Counterterrorism Blog, Andrew Cochran elaborated on this theme, contrasting the language of this week's address with those of the past. In 2007, he wrote, Bush highlighted the aggression of "Sunni extremists" and "Shia extremists." In 2006, he warned against "radical Islam." In 2008, the president merely decried "assassins," "bombs," "extremists" and "terrorists." Why the fuzzy focus? Why declare a "defining ideological struggle" without defining the ideologies involved?

Among the principles Bush said we hold dear, we would undoubtedly include the freedom of religion. Going back to Bush's terminology, which "terrorists" oppose this freedom? One answer is Al Qaeda and the Taliban, which the president pointed out we are still fighting in Afghanistan. But so, recent events confirm, does Afghanistan itself oppose religious freedom, which the president didn't mention at all.

Diana West

Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character (St. Martin's Press, 2013), and The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (St. Martin's Press, 2007).