The Magazine

We Blew It

A look back in remorse on the conservative opportunity that was squandered.

Nov 17, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 09 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

It's not hard to move a voting bloc. And it should be especially easy to move voters to the right. Sensible adults are conservative in most aspects of their private lives. If this weren't so, imagine driving on I-95: The majority of drivers are drunk, stoned, making out, or watching TV, while the rest are trying to calculate the size of their carbon footprints on the backs of Whole Foods receipts while negotiating lane changes.

People are even more conservative if they have children. Nobody with kids is a liberal, except maybe one pothead in Marin County. Everybody wants his or her children to respect freedom, exercise responsibility, be honest, get educated, have opportunities, and own a bunch of guns. (The last is optional and includes, but is not limited to, me, my friends in New Hampshire, and Sarah Palin.)

Reagan managed to reach out to blue collar whites. But there his reach stopped, leaving many people on our side, but barely knowing it. There are enough yarmulkes among the neocons to show that Jews are not immune to conservatism. Few practicing Catholics vote Democratic anymore except in Massachusetts where they put something in the communion wafers. When it comes to a full-on, hemp-wearing, kelp-eating, mandala-tatted, fool-coifed liberal with socks in sandals, I have never met a Muslim like that or a Chinese and very few Hispanics. No U.S. immigrants from the Indian subcontinent fill that bill (the odd charlatan yogi excepted), nor do immigrants from Africa, Eastern Europe, or East Asia. And Japanese tourists may go so far as socks in sandals, but their liberal nonsense stops at the ankles.

We have all of this going for us, worldwide. And yet we chose to deliver our sermons only to the faithful or the already converted. Of course the trailer park Protestants yell "Amen." If you were handling rattlesnakes and keeping dinosaurs for pets, would you vote for the party that gets money from PETA?

In how many ways did we fail conservatism? And who can count that high? Take just one example of our unconserved tendency to poke our noses into other people's business: abortion. Democracy--be it howsoever conservative--is a manifestation of the will of the people. We may argue with the people as a man may argue with his wife, but in the end we must submit to the fact of being married. Get a pro-life friend drunk to the truth-telling stage and ask him what happens if his 14-year-old gets knocked up. What if it's rape? Some people truly have the courage of their convictions. I don't know if I'm one of them. I might kill the baby. I will kill the boy.

The real message of the conservative pro-life position is that we're in favor of living. We consider people--with a few obvious exceptions--to be assets. Liberals consider people to be nuisances. People are always needing more government resources to feed, house, and clothe them and to pick up the trash around their FEMA trailers and to make sure their self-esteem is high enough to join community organizers lobbying for more government resources.

If the citizenry insists that abortion remain legal--and, in a passive and conflicted way, the citizenry seems to be doing so--then give the issue a rest. Meanwhile we can, with the public's blessing, refuse to spend taxpayers' money on killing, circumscribe the timing and method of taking a human life, make sure parental consent is obtained when underage girls are involved, and tar and feather teenage boys and run them out of town on a rail. The law cannot be made identical with morality. Scan the list of the Ten Commandments and see how many could be enforced even by Rudy Giuliani.

Our impeachment of President Clinton was another example of placing the wrong political emphasis on personal matters. We impeached Clinton for lying to the government. To our surprise the electorate gave us cold comfort. Lying to the government: It's called April 15th. And we accused Clinton of lying about sex, which all men spend their lives doing, starting at 15 bragging about things we haven't done yet, then on to fibbing about things we are doing, and winding up with prevarications about things we no longer can do.

When the Monica Lewinsky news broke, my wife set me straight about the issue. "Here," she said, "is the most powerful man in the world. And everyone hates his wife. What's the matter with Sharon Stone? Instead, he's hitting on an emotionally disturbed intern barely out of her teens." But our horn rims were so fogged with detestation of Clinton that we couldn't see how really detestable he was. If we had stayed our hand in the House of Representatives and treated the brute with shunning or calls for interventions to make him seek help, we might have chased him out of the White House. (Although this probably would have required a U.S. news media from a parallel universe.)