"I was conservative yesterday, I'm a conservative today, and I will be a conservative tomorrow," declared Fred Thompson to the Conservative Party of New York, billing himself as the "consistent conservative" in the GOP race -- in contrast to ex-mayor Rudy Giuliani.
In his defense, Rudy cites George Will as calling his eight years in office in the Big Apple the most conservative city government in 50 years.
And, truth be told, Thompson was reliably conservative in his Senate years. But so, too, has John McCain been, and Ron Paul, Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo. Hunter, however, splits with Thompson and McCain on trade. Paul disagrees with all six of them on the war. And Tancredo assails McCain for backing Bush's amnesty for 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens.
Will the real conservative please stand up? Or perhaps we should recall John 14:2, "In my father's house there are many mansions."
What does it mean to be a conservative -- in 2007?
Sixty years ago, Robert A. Taft was the gold standard. Forty years ago, it was Barry Goldwater, who backed Bob Taft against Ike at the 1952 convention. Twenty years ago, it was Ronald Reagan, who backed Barry in 1964. Reagan remains the paragon -- for the consistency of his convictions, the success of his presidency and the character he exhibited to the end of his life. About Reagan the cliche was true: The greatness of the office found out the greatness in the man.
Reagan defined conservatism for his time. And the issues upon which we agreed were anti-communism, a national defense second to none, lower tax rates to unleash the engines of economic progress, fiscal responsibility, a strict-constructionist Supreme Court, law and order, the right-to-life from conception on and a resolute defense of family values under assault from the cultural revolution that hit America with hurricane force in the 1960s.
With the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the breakup of the Soviet Union, anti-communism as the defining and unifying issue of the right was gone. The conservative crack-up commenced.
With George H.W. Bush came the advent of what Fred Barnes of The New Republic hailed as Big Government Conservatism. Some thought the phrase oxymoronic. But when Bush stood at the rostrum of the U.N. General Assembly in October 1991 to declare that America's cause was the creation of a New World Order, the old right reached reflexively for their revolvers.