What defines a "good conservative" these days? A "good Republican"? The lines have been further blurred by the current spat over the Bush administration's decision to allow the shipping operations at some major American seaports to be managed by a United Arab Emirates-based company.
For columnists like myself, who've served as Republican-elected officials, and who once sweated blood to win a GOP majority in Congress, the issue of defining good conservatives is all the more agonizing.
Consider the letter I received from a reader who reacted to my suggestion that the media overreached on the Cheney shooting. I generally defended Cheney but also said he needs a change in style. The vice president's 29 percent public-approval rating might suggest I'm right.
But this reader wrote, "Your columns are becoming less and less relevant, to the extent that your left-leaning views creep in. … Your embarrassingly out-of-touch views are simply way out of place … "
I admit that as the head of a polling and political news firm, I have been forced to make myself nonpartisan.
Even so, I'll bet, Mr. Reader, that you never devoted decades of your life to working in campaigns so that Republicans could become the majority party. And I'll venture that you have never cast votes in a legislative body where being a Republican made you not just a minority but also a whipping boy.
The fact is that any poll that shows only a 29 percent support level means it's time to take a look at the conservative movement without the false comfort of rose-colored glasses.
I suspect your views are largely the product of listening to talk radio or watching your favorite "everything-is-always-great-for-Republicans" talk shows.
If you didn't like a column that gave constructive advice on how to improve Cheney's image, you won't like this one either.
Nearly every poll I've seen lately shows that even conservatives are getting tired of clumsy "we-know-it-all" Republican policies in a time of massive government debt, no real reform of the tax system, and now this seemingly wacky move to turn over the shipping management at major ports to a nation through which Sept. 11 hijackers passed on their way to killing thousands of Americans.
To all the Mr. and Ms. Conservatives out there -- to all the "Towery-is-out-of-touch" readers -- let me make it as clear as if I were writing in crayon: I am not blaming President Bush for this huge public-relations and possibly public-policy disaster on ports management. I am blaming those around him.