WASHINGTON -- The axiom is as old as human striving: The perfect is the enemy of the good. In politics this means that insisting on perfection in a candidate interferes with selecting a satisfactory one.
Which is why the mood of many of the 6,300 people, lots of them college age, who registered at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference here, was unreasonably morose. Sponsored annually by the American Conservative Union, CPAC is the conservative movement's moveable feast. Many at CPAC seemed depressed by the fact, as they see it, that the top three Republican candidates -- John McCain, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani -- are flawed. Such conservatives should conduct a thought experiment.
Suppose someone seeking the presidential nomination had, as a governor, signed the largest tax increase in his state's history and the nation's most permissive abortion law. And by signing a law institutionalizing no-fault divorce, he had unwittingly but substantially advanced an idea central to the campaign for same-sex marriages -- the minimalist understanding of marriage as merely a contract between consenting adults to be entered into or dissolved as it suits their happiness.
Question: Is it not likely that such a presidential aspirant would be derided by some of today's fastidious conservatives? A sobering thought, that, because the attributes just described were those of Ronald Reagan.
Now, consider today's three leading candidates, starting with McCain, the mere mention of whose name elicited disapproving noises at CPAC. This column holds the Olympic record for sustained dismay about McCain's incorrigible itch to regulate political speech (``campaign finance reform''). But it is not incongruous that he holds Barry Goldwater's Senate seat.
McCain, whose career rating from ACU is 82 (100 being perfect), voted in 2003 against the prescription drug entitlement because of its cost. He is a strong critic of corporate welfare. And since 2003 he has been insisting that the mission in Iraq requires more troops -- even more than will be there during the current ``surge.''
Conservatives' anger about McCain coexists with others' discordant criticism of him for ``pandering'' to conservatives. Astonishingly, a recent Vanity Fair profile accused McCain of ``toeing the conservative line'' on immigration, which shows that Vanity Fair does not know what that line is.