"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive," wrote Wordsworth on the Fall of the Bastille, "But to be young was very heaven."
So it was, long ago, when a young generation of conservatives rose up to declare they would rather go down to defeat with Barry Goldwater than win with Nelson Rockefeller. And lose we did.
But out of the fiery furnace came a movement. Sixteen years later, it would nominate Ronald Reagan, who would win a 44-state landslide, go to Washington as president and win the Cold War, the great cause of 1960s conservatism. Contrast that principled conservatism with the crass politics of the California recall.
It began as a populist crusade. Defying the White House and the state Republican establishment, grass-roots conservatives -- with the financial aid of Rep. Darryl Issa -- forced the recall election of Gov. Gray Davis.
But when they succeeded, Arnold Schwarzenegger, coming off the success of "Terminator III," declared for governor and vaulted into the lead. The stampede to endorse was on, with George Schulz, Pete Wilson, Rob Lowe and Warren Buffett being enthusiastically joined by conservatives David Dreier, Dana Rohrbacher and Chris Cox.
But by calling on Republicans to vote for Arnold, not the men of principle Bill Simon or Tom McClintock, who were the conservatives endorsing? A sybarite who backs abortion on demand, homosexual unions and gun control, and thought the impeachment of Clinton a GOP atrocity.
All that is irrelevant, say the pragmatic conservatives. We are endorsing Arnold because he can deal with a $38 billion deficit.
But how is Arnold qualified to deal with a fiscal crisis? In 2002, he campaigned for after-school programs that would add half a billion dollars to spending. Nor has Arnold ruled out tax increases to balance the budget. He opened his campaign by talking of bringing business back, so business could pay the taxes needed to create new state programs. Conclusion? California conservatives have rallied to Arnold for one reason: They think he is a winner, and they have put their principles on the shelf.
Now, there is no denying that the first objective of a political cause is the winning of power. Without power, even the best of causes cannot prevail. But without principles on which a man will stand or fall, without convictions, without ideas and ideals, without an agenda, the pursuit of power becomes naked ambition, and politics becomes but a question of us, not them, with no more moral content than the NFL. Politics then ceases to be a solemn duty of citizenship and becomes a spectator sport, a game, a diversion.