Sunday, April 8, 2007

Reagan's Heir Need Not Be a Reaganite

In the past several years, as the GOP has labored under the "compassionate conservatism" of George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan has become our collective lodestar—all things to all conservatives.

Libertarians claim him as one of their own, owing to his rhetoric about government as the problem, not the solution. Christians view his conversion to the pro-life agenda as his strongest legacy. Neocons uphold his ending of the Cold War.

The biggest hurdle facing the current crop of our presidential candidates is the inability of each to unify these three wings of the party.

All three support the president on Iraq, especially, and crucially, the surge. But despite McCain's voting record, the religious right doesn't trust him. Nor do they embrace the pro-choice, pro-civil union New Yorker, Rudy Giuliani. On paper, Mitt Romney is the Christian candidate, except that he's only recently become so, and he's Mormon.

Rudy is the libertarian candidate, save for his elevation of security over liberty. Romney's language about deficits and vetoes is attractive, if you minimize health care. Ditto for McCain's bona fides on pork and waste, if you overlook McCain-Feingold and tax cuts.

So who will be Reagan's heir? At this point, no one. Still, it behooves us to remember, as George Will has written, "that insisting on perfection in a candidate interferes with selecting a satisfactory one." Or, to use another cliche, politics is the art of compromise.