After a conversation about politics, my grandmother and I used to say, “Isn’t it terrible how Republican we are? Aren’t we just hard-bitten, incorrigible Republicans? Isn’t it terrible?” Yes, it is. I am so Republican, I sometimes worry about myself.
I never wanted to be a partisan (and I never wanted to be a Republican, though that’s another, if related, story). I would rather be a nice above-the-fray type. “A pox on both their houses” and all that. David S. Broder, the late “dean” of the Washington press corps, seemed to float above the parties. And think of two other Davids: Gergen and Brooks.
Many of my colleagues say, “I’m not a Republican, I’m a conservative.” They usually say it with pride and satisfaction (self-satisfaction, actually). Well, I’m a Republican, as well as a conservative. I’ll vote for (almost) anyone with an “R” after his name.
For many of my fellow conservatives, no Republican is ever good enough: not George W. Bush, not John McCain, not Mitt Romney. Mushy moderates. Well, they were good enough for me, and I wish McCain or Romney had beaten Barack Obama. I wish McCain were in his second term now, and I surely wish Romney were in his first.
You meet people who say there are no real differences between the two major parties. I have a very hard time understanding these people. “Tweedledum and Tweedledee,” they say. Then, almost always to chortling approval, they say, “Tweedledum and Tweedledummer!” They also use this term “Republicrats.” There is one “establishment” party, and it is the “Republicratic” party.
I have to wonder what these folks are smoking. It seems to me the parties are all too far apart, with starkly different views: what America’s place in the world should be; what the role of government should be; who the unborn are. Some of the time, I think the two parties are barely on the same planet. I guess I would prefer something more like an “era of good feelings.”
In 1960, whom would I have voted for? Would I have pulled the lever for Nixon or JFK? Where policy was concerned, there was very little difference between the two candidates. They had essentially the same worldview.
In 2000, I did some writing from the Democratic convention in Los Angeles. For a week, I was soaked in the core of the Democratic party. I did not find it pleasant. One day, I said to a colleague (a fellow conservative), “Is the Democratic party right about anything? One half the country can’t be wrong about everything, right?” We went through the issues, one by one. “Well,” we said, “do the Democrats have a point about the environment?” No, we concluded. They were fanatics, while we favored a good and sensible stewardship.
After the convention adjourned one night, I hopped on a shuttle, taking delegates and others back to various hotels. Two women were having an animated conversation. One of them was upset about her new vice-presidential nominee, Joe Lieberman. “He’s for parental notification!” she said. What she meant was that Lieberman thought parents should be notified if their minors were having an abortion. “Yes,” said the other woman, “but that’s better than parental consent!”
For me, it was very much a Bolshevik-Menshevik moment.
Last spring, I covered the opening ceremony of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. On the stage was an all-American lineup: the incumbent president and his four living predecessors. So, we were looking at Obama, W., Clinton, H.W., and Carter. It was a sunnily bipartisan affair. And I had a dark thought: “I wish I could admire or respect the Democrats as men—quite apart from their politics.” I have the same problem with the recent Democratic nominees who didn’t make it to the White House: Gore and Kerry.
Do I think that Republicans are angels and the Democrats devils? Heavens no. I know far too many people in each party to think that. But when it comes to national politics, and national figures, I lean hopelessly in one direction.
The first ballot I ever cast was in 1982. It was for the Republican gubernatorial nominee in my home state, Michigan. (The nominee, who lost, had the remarkable name of Dick Headlee.) I wonder if I will ever cast a Democratic ballot, for any meaningful position. Parties change, as individuals do. Reagan was over 50 when he switched his registration.
William A. Rusher, the late publisher of National Review—who rejoiced in the initials WAR—made this analogy: Conservatism is the wine and the Republican party is the bottle. Neither one can do anything without the other. It’s fine for us conservatives to sit around grousing about the Republican party, which is how we spend 90 percent of our time, but who’s going to get into the arena and engage in the difficult work of politics, which involves a million concessions?
I have great sympathy, even gratitude, for the bottle.