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Give me that old-time conservatism

THE IDEOLOGUES in the Republican Party — you know, the ones who don’t care who can actually become president, as long as their candidate thinks exactly the way they do about everything — don’t know whether to spit or go blind with John McCain as their presumptive nominee.

And I gotta tell ya, I’m loving it. My happiness will be complete once the “anger” faction of the Democratic Party is similarly discombobulated by having Barack Obama as its nominee. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves on that.

My other favorite candidate, John McCain (The State has endorsed both him and Sen. Obama), may not quite have the Republican nomination sewn up, but he’s close enough to it to give the more objectionable elements within his party considerable indigestion. True, Mitt Romney is doing everything he possibly can to stop the McCain bandwagon, spending $1 million on ads in California alone.

But while this moment of promise lasts, let’s savor it.

A colleague who listens to such things says right-wing talk radio is abuzz with apocalyptic rantings about the End Times for the GOP, which sounds lovely to me, UnParty adherent that I am. But I content myself with reading about it in the papers. Let’s take just one day (Thursday) of one newspaper (The Wall Street Journal) widely associated with Conservative Orthodoxy. Under the headline, “McCain Takes the GOP Lead,” we read:

Republicans have a clear front-runner in Arizona Sen. John McCain. By nearly all accounts, he is the candidate many Democrats least want to face, the one who would best remake his party’s battered image and draw independent voters needed to win in November.

But Sen. McCain still confronts a problem both in the remainder of the nomination race, and, if he wins, in the fall: He is simply loathed by many fellow Republicans, often for the very bipartisanship and maverick streak that attracts independents.

Under “Giuliani Fund-Raisers Sit on Fence for Now,” we learn that while Rudy Giuliani may have pulled out...

Mr. Giuliani’s well-heeled supporters might not throw their money behind the cash-strapped Arizona senator so fast. “We haven’t decided what we’re going to do,” says T. Boone Pickens, the Dallas tycoon who has raised more than $1 million for Mr. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, since late 2006...

Then, on the opinion pages, that font of oracular conservative wisdom, the very lead editorial of the hallowed WSJ itself, under the real-life headline “McCain’s Apostasies,” pronounces the following:

Mr. McCain’s great political strength has also long been his main weakness, which is that his political convictions are more personal than ideological. He believes in duty, honor and country more than he does in any specific ideas.

These personal qualities are genuine political assets.... But he is now on the cusp of leading a coalition that also believes in certain principles, and its “footsoldiers” (to borrow a favorite McCain word) need to be convinced that the Senator is enough on their side to warrant enthusiastic support...”

By “ideas,” the Journal does not mean “removing the inordinate influence of money from politics,” or “restraining wasteful spending” or “believing the surge would work” or “life begins at conception” or “maybe we should secure our borders without totally alienating the Hispanic vote.” No, it means such lofty concepts as: “What do you always, always do with a tax? Cut it!”

Duty, honor and country indeed! What’s conservative about that stuff?

Speaking of the Gimme-Gimme wing of the party, another newspaper (conservatives should cover their sensitive ears before I name it), The New York Times, reported on Friday that “leaders of the right” have practically been doing backflips trying to adjust to the new reality. My favorite in this regard is Grover “Shrink Government Until You Can Drown it in a Bathtub” Norquist, who goes further than anyone to spin this into a personal victory:

“He has moved in the right direction strongly and forcefully on taxes,” Mr. Norquist says, adding that he’s been talking to Sen. McCain’s “tax guys” for some time. So you see, not only does this make everything OK, but Grover gets to take credit! Because, as anyone who has ever had cause to regret signing his “No New Taxes” pledge can testify, it’s all about Grover.

By now some of you think I have it in for all things “conservative.” I don’t. I just grew up with a different concept of it from that which has in recent years been appropriated by extremists. I grew up in a conservative family — a Navy family, as a matter of fact. To the extent that “conservative ideas” were instilled in me, they weren’t the kind that make a person fume over paying his taxes, or get apoplectic at the sound of spoken Spanish. They were instead the old-fashioned ones: Traditional moral values. Respect for others. Good stewardship. Plain speaking.

And finally, the concept that no passing fancy, no merely political idea, is worth as much as Duty, Honor and Country.

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