O Captain, My Captain

Notes from the political sidelines.
March 8 2007 4:16 PM

O Captain, My Captain

For conservatives, no comic relief.

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But before conservatives get too excited about secondary virginity, they ought to consider its repercussions for the broader conservative faith. After all, the central animating principle behind conservatism has always been that there is no Plan B. That's President Bush's position on Iraq, and it's quite literally the conservative position on abortion. In political terms, secondary virginity is like a morning-after pill for politicians: An ambitious young Republican will no longer have to abstain from taking moderate stands—if he makes a mistake, he can take care of it later. On abortion, the Norquistian bargain is especially glaring: As long as Mitt Romney is opposed to Plan B for young couples, he can have a political Plan B for himself.

What is the world coming to, when absolutists start sending mixed signals? The far right opposes Bush's immigration plan as amnesty on the grounds that by forgiving illegal immigrants, it will only encourage more foreigners to follow suit. Norquist's plan represents something that true conservatives should hate even more: amnesty for moderates!

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Essentially, Norquist is conceding that the job of running the country is work that no real conservatives want to do, so they need to import help from somewhere else. Mitt Romney got in trouble for running his own guest-worker program to do the yard work at his house in Boston. Now Grover Norquist wants to turn conservatism into a guest-worker program to hire Mitt Romney.

Wary conservatives should read a May 2006 Washington Post story titled "Virginity Pledges Can't Be Taken on Faith." According to the Post, a Harvard researcher found that "53 percent of adolescents in a large, federally funded study who said they made a virginity pledge denied doing so a year later, often after they had become sexually active." Another 10 percent became sexually active first, then made the pledge—and then claimed to be virgins. Norquist would have his candidate, if only any of them were old enough to run for president.

Conservatives would be better off listening to Sarah Brown, head of the National Campaign To Prevent Teen Pregnancy, who told the Post that the study "confirms that when people are asked about sensitive behavior, you have to take their answers with a grain of salt." As Columbia professor Peter S. Bearman, an expert on virginity progams, pointed out, "Pledging leads to a form of promise-breaking that's riskier."

Of course, the best proof that secondary virginity won't work for conservatives is right in front of their noses. This isn't the first time Grover Norquist has used his conservative pledge cards to force Republican candidates into a shotgun marriage. The first George Bush won the GOP nomination in 1988 because he signed Norquist's no-tax pledge and Bob Dole wouldn't. Conservatives ran Bush 41 out of office when he didn't keep it. Haunted by his father's mistake, the younger Bush happily stuck to every pledge conservatives sent his way—and as a result, governed so badly that even conservatives can't wait to run off with someone else.

Now that true and false believers alike have failed, the conservative movement might want to reconsider whether its promises are worth making. Don't count on it. For the Norquists and Romneys, the pledge's the thing. Belief, like so much else, is secondary. ... 10:57 A.M. (link)

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Friday, Feb. 23, 2007

Gravel Pit:For the political press, this week's shootout between the Clinton and Obama campaigns was as intoxicating as a hunter's first whiff of gunpowder on Opening Day. The Hotline dubbed it "Slash Wednesday." The tabloids went Postal. The only way to make Roger Ailes happier would have been to let Maureen Dowd referee a Mark Penn/David Axelrod Jello-wrestling match on pay-per-view.

As a card-carrying Clintonite, I tend to agree with John Dickerson that Round 1 went to Clinton. But there's an easy way for everyone in the field to come away a winner: Don't bother having a Round 2.

Primary campaigns are by definition family feuds, so sparks are bound to fly, and it's hard not to take everything personally. I still haven't forgiven people for snide comments they made on behalf of rival campaigns two decades ago, even people I otherwise consider good friends from campaigns before or since. Moreover, a party's nomination is worth more if it's a real battle, not a love fest where real differences are swept under the carpet, only to resurface during the general election.