George Will

     WASHINGTON -- If by the dawn's early light of Nov. 3 George W. Bush stands victorious, seven of 10 presidential elections will have been won by Southern Californians and Texans, all Republicans. The other three were won by Democrats -- a Georgian and an Arkansan.

     This rise of the Sun Belt is both a cause and a consequence of conservatism's rise, which began in 1964 with, paradoxically, the landslide loss of the second post-Civil War major-party presidential nominee from that region -- Arizona's Barry Goldwater, four years after the first, Richard Nixon. His campaign was the first stirring of a mass movement: Nixon's 1960 campaign attracted 50,000 individual contributors; Goldwater's attracted 650,000.

     Conservatism's 40-year climb to dominance receives an examination worthy of its complexity in ``The Right Nation,'' the best political book in years. Its British authors, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist, demonstrate that conservative power derives from two sources -- its congruence with American values, especially the nation's anomalous religiosity, and the elaborate infrastructure of think tanks and other institutions that stresses that congruence.

     Liberals, now tardily trying to replicate that infrastructure, thought they did not need it because they had academia and the major media. But the former marginalized itself with its silliness, and the latter have been marginalized by their insularity and by competitors born of new technologies.

     Liberals complacently believed that the phrase ``conservative thinker'' was an oxymoron. For years -- generations, really -- the prestige of the liberal label was such that Herbert Hoover called himself a ``true liberal'' and Dwight Eisenhower said that cutting federal spending on education would offend ``every liberal -- including me.''

     Liberalism's apogee came with Lyndon Johnson, who while campaigning against Goldwater proclaimed, ``We're in favor of a lot of things and we're against mighty few.'' Johnson's landslide win produced a ruinous opportunity -- a large liberal majority in Congress, and incontinent legislating. Forty years later, only one-third of Democrats call themselves liberal, whereas two-thirds of Republicans call themselves conservative. Which explains this Micklethwait and Wooldridge observation on the Clinton presidency:


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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