Among the various flavors of conservatism, there is libertarianism that is wary of government attempts to nurture morality and there is social conservatism that says unless government nurtures morality, liberty will perish. Both kinds of conservatives use their votes to advance what they value.
Only one Republican senator -- let us now praise New Hampshire's John Sununu -- voted for the measure to take the money for Alaska's "bridge to nowhere" and spend it for Hurricane Katrina relief, and also voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment (which would clutter the Constitution with the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman). The former vote affirmed the value of common sense; the latter, by opposing federal usurpation of the traditional state responsibility for marriage law, affirmed the value of cultural federalism. Is Sununu a values voter?
McCain, who also opposes the marriage amendment (but supports an Arizona initiative to define marriage there as between a man and a woman), says he would have voted for the bridge-for-Katrina money swap, had he not been away from the Senate that day. Perhaps he was out wooing values voters. Is he one?
Attempts to assign values-seriousness can get complicated: Freedom and happiness are valuable. Arguably, governmental actions that did much to increase freedom and happiness in the past half-century were state laws liberalizing divorce. These made important contributions to the emancipation of men and especially women from mistaken marriages. Perhaps the most important of these laws -- it was among the most liberal and was in the most populous state -- was signed by a divorced governor, Ronald Reagan. What do socially conservative values voters make of that ?
The two front-runners for the 2008 presidential nominations are studies in contrasts, yet they have two things in common. First, both stand to gain from a Republican debacle this November: The weaker that Republicans look on Wednesday morning, Nov. 8, the easier it will be for Clinton to dampen Democrats' anxieties about her electability, and the larger she looms, the more the Republicans will focus on the electability of their competing candidates, which will favor McCain. Second, both are and will remain busy courting only values voters, because there is no other kind.
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