Today Michigan and Arizona vote. The New Hampshire primary is done, and McCain has won. The South Carolina primary is done, and Bush has won. Forbes and Bauer are out, and despite the eloquence of Alan Keyes, it comes down to a contest between two on the Republican side.
New Hampshire and Delaware forced out Steve Forbes. He was running on a splendid platform, carved out of the Reagan years, and improving upon them. His demise has led to many statements, some on the right and some on the left, that both Reaganism and conservatism are dead or dying. Others have countered that conservatism is exercising a powerful influence upon both parties now, and so it is to the advantage of neither party.
We differ from both these positions. In the weakness of the noble Forbes campaign, and in both the strengths and weaknesses of Bush and McCain, there is a lesson to be found.
The Forbes campaign failed because it left something out, something for which it was reaching, and something that it almost supplied. Forbes began his political career as an economic conservative. In the second phase, he became both a social and an economic conservative. In the past year he has entered a third phase. His campaign book was called A New Birth of Freedom. In cooperation with us at the Claremont Institute, he fought to defend the teaching of the Declaration of Independence in New Jersey, and he made mention of this important battle in the national debates. The third phase of the Forbes campaign was better grounded in the principles, traditions, and institutions of America. His campaign against the Internal Revenue Service became also a campaign in favor of limited government, property rights, and the rule of law. His campaign for the family became also a campaign in favor of good citizenship and the private authority and responsibility of parents. His campaign for deregulation became also a campaign for federalism, which is that sublime balance between state and federal power that keeps both levels of government in check.
We believe that, had Steve Forbes been already an elected official, these final moves would have been very powerful. The same observation applies to Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes, both of whom have spoken nobly at times in the campaign of the Declaration and the Constitution. The very institutions of America that these men admire so well told against them. Other than Taft, Hoover, and some very famous generals, it is extremely uncommon for an American to win the presidency as his first elected office. George Washington set the tone for the presidency. He was not elected merely because he was a good man, nor merely because he had a good plan. His goodness had been proved in service to his country.
The campaigns of Bush and McCain are both now reaching for the highest ground. So far, both fall short of it. Neither is able to marshal the central themes of our nation in support of his program and candidacy. "Compassionate conservatism" is not a synonym for limited government, or for equal rights, or for the nobility of the American purpose. "Reform" that increases the power of bureaucrats to regulate the electoral system is not conducive to citizen control of the government. The First Amendment, which guarantees our right to speak as we please in politics, should not be ignored.
Conservatism is not dead. It has done a splendid job, so far. Many of those running for president have learned its lessons and articulate them well. Now is the time for conservatism, like those candidates, to add that last dimension, the dimension present in Reagan, in Coolidge, in Lincoln, in Washington. To conservatism must be added patriotism, patriotism that is deeply informed about the meaning and the manner of our singular nation.