Their story, of late, has been that theirs is the lonely burden of defending all that is wholesome. But the problem with claiming to have cornered the market on virtue is that people will get snippy when they spot vice in your ranks. This is one awkward aspect of what is supposed to have been the happy fusion between, but which involves unresolved tensions between, two flavors of conservatism -- Western and Southern.
The former is largely libertarian, holding that pruning big government will allow civil society -- and virtues nourished by it and by the responsibilities of freedom -- to flourish. The Southern, essentially religious, strand of conservatism, is explained by Ryan Sager in his new book ``The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party'':
``Whereas conservative Christian parents once thought it was inappropriate for public schools to teach their kids about sex, now they want the schools to preach abstinence to children. Whereas conservative Christians used to be unhappy with evolution being taught in public schools, now they want Intelligent Design taught instead (or at least in addition). Whereas conservative Christians used to want the federal government to leave them alone, now they demand that more and more federal funds be directed to local churches and religious groups through Bush's faith-based initiatives program.''
To a Republican Party increasingly defined by the ascendancy of the religious right, the Foley episode is doubly deadly. His behavior was disgusting, and some Republican reactions to it seem more calculating than indignant.
Foley's name remains on the ballot in Florida's 16th Congressional District, which means that Democrats, who needed 15 seats to capture the House, now need just 14. Thirteen, actually: In Arizona's 8th, where Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe is retiring, Republicans used the primary to vent, nominating a probably unelectable firebreather on the immigration issue.
After the 1936 election, in which President Franklin Roosevelt shellacked the Republican nominee in all but two states, a humorist wrote: ``If the outcome of this election hasn't taught you Republicans not to meddle in politics, I don't know what will.'' If after the Foley episode -- a maraschino cherry atop the Democrats' delectable sundae of Republican miseries -- the Democrats cannot gain 13 seats, they should go into another line of work.