"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.
In 1992, with foreign policy off the table, the Bush economic record a perceived failure and Ross Perot running on protectionism and populism, Bush refused to play his trump card with the Clintons: the social and moral issues he and Lee Atwater had use to beat Michael Dukakis senseless in 1988. And so, George H.W. Bush lost the presidency.
Now, 15 years later, what does it mean to be a conservative?
There is no pope who speaks ex cathedra. There is no bible to consult, like Goldwater's "The Conscience of a Conservative" or Reagan's "no-pale-pastels" platform of 1980. At San Diego in 1996, Bob Dole told his convention he had not bothered to read the platform. Many who heard him did not bother to vote for Bob Dole.
And so, today, the once-great house of conservatism is a Tower of Babel. We are big government and small government, traditionalist and libertarian, tax-cutter and budget hawk, free trader and economic nationalist. Bush and McCain support amnesty and a "path to citizenship" for illegals. The country wants the laws enforced and a fence on the border.
And Rudy? A McGovernite in 1972, he boasted in the campaign of 1993 that he would "rekindle the Rockefeller, Javits, Lefkowitz tradition" of New York's GOP and "produce the kind of change New York City saw with ... John Lindsay." He ran on the Liberal Party line and supported Mario Cuomo in 1994.
Pro-abortion, anti-gun, again and again he strutted up Fifth Avenue in the June Gay Pride parade and turned the Big Apple into a sanctuary city for illegal aliens. While Ward Connerly goes state to state to end reverse discrimination, Rudy is an affirmative-action man.
Gravitating now to Rudy's camp are those inveterate opportunists, the neocons, who see in Giuliani their last hope of redemption for their cakewalk war and their best hope for a "Long War" against "Islamofascism."
I will, Rudy promises, nominate Scalias. Only one more may be needed to overturn Roe. And I will keep Hillary out of the White House.
A Giuliani presidency would represent the return and final triumph of the Republicanism that conservatives went into politics to purge from power. A Giuliani presidency would represent repudiation by the party of the moral, social and cultural content that, with anti-communism, once separated it from liberal Democrats and defined it as an institution.
Rudy offers the right the ultimate Faustian bargain: retention of power at the price of one's soul.