In the 1960s, just as conservatism was beginning to grow from a fringe tendency into what it has become -- the nation's most potent persuasion -- it was threatened by a boarding party of people not much, if any, loonier than Sheehan. The John Birch Society, whose catechism included the novel tenet that Dwight Eisenhower was an agent of the Kremlin, was not numerous -- its membership probably never numbered more than 100,000 -- but its power to taint all of conservatism was huge, particularly given the media's eagerness to abet the tainting. Responsible conservatives, especially William F. Buckley and his National Review, repelled the boarders, driving them into the dark cave where, today, they ferociously guard the secret of their size from a nation no longer curious about it.
MoveOn.org, which claims 3.3 million members and is becoming a tone-setting tail that wags the Democratic Party dog that is mostly such tails, adopted Sheehan during her Crawford demonstration, organizing 1,627 vigils around the country to express solidarity with her. But the Democratic Party, whose democratically elected chairman is Howard (``I Hate the Republicans and Everything They Stand For'') Dean, is not ripe for lessons in temperate rhetoric, which may be why the Republican Party has far fewer worries than it deserves.
It is showing signs of becoming an exhausted volcano. Regarding Iraq, it is mistaking truculent asperity and tiresome repetition for Churchillian wartime eloquence. Regarding domestic policy, intellectual anemia has given rise to behavioral patterns not easily distinguished from corruption, as with the energy and transportation bills. Yet the Democratic Party, which by now can hardly remember the far-distant past when it was a volcano not of molten rhetoric but of serious thought, seems preoccupied with the chafing around its neck. The chafing is caused by the leashes firmly gripped and impudently jerked by various groups like MoveOn.org that insist the party adopt hysteria as a policy by treating the Supreme Court nomination of John Roberts as a dire threat to liberty.
If Hillary Clinton has half the political sense her enthusiasts ascribe to her, she must be deeply anxious lest all her ongoing attempts to adopt moderation as her brand will be nullified by the increasing inclination of her party's base to succumb to siren songs sung by the likes of Sheehan. But, then, a rapidly growing portion of the base is not just succumbing to those songs, it is singing them.
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