JOHN HOOD: Why Conservatives Tend to Root for Obama
I've talked to many conservatives about their preferences in the race for the 2008 presidential nomination.
The Democratic one, I mean.
With an unpopular Republican incumbent and most Americans concerned about the direction of the country, the political moment seems better suited to donkeys than elephants. That doesn't mean John McCain can't win. Various events could give him an opening. But as of now, the odds are that Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton will be the next president.
In my experience, most conservatives prefer Obama, rated most liberal-voting member of the Senate.
How can this be? Most Republican partisans believe that McCain would have an easier time defeating Clinton. But the two groups, Republican partisans and conservatives, overlap.
Most conservatives enter public life not to achieve power for its own sake but to advance ideas and values they hold dear. Losing an election is not the same as losing a cause. And the kind of politics that conservatives envision does not lack for principled liberals with whom to spar. What it would lack, or at least minimize, are the likes of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
A core conservative conviction is that we should all play by the rules, whether the rules speak to discipline in our schools, safety and order in our neighborhoods, morality and decorum in our personal relationships, or the division of power in our polities. Of course, we all fall short of the ideal sometimes. But the Clintons often don't seem to recognize the existence of the ideal.
Set aside the ethical squalor that was the Clinton administration and just consider what's happening now with the delegate counts.
Like it or not, the Democratic National Committee chose to create a system that discouraged large states from encroaching on the sole authority of four small states to hold contests in January. Officials in Michigan and Florida decided to move their primaries, anyway, knowing that their delegate counts would be slashed. Clinton chose to compete in both states, knowing that. Obama chose not to compete in either state, knowing that.
Now, with Obama ahead, the Clinton campaign is reportedly making plans to challenge the penalty and seat a full count of Michigan and Florida delegates. This is exactly why you don't change the rules of any contest once it's under way -- we have no idea how Michigan and Florida would have truly voted had the rules been different.
Which is why conservatives so passionately opposed Al Gore's attempts to change the vote-counting rules in Florida after the fact.
We have no idea what the vote totals would have been in 2000 had Bush and Gore been campaigning for the popular vote. (The GOP would have worked harder to turn out its voters in large blue states such as California and New York, for example.) The key is to know what the rule is ahead of time. With the Clintons, the definition of "is" seems always in flux.
Another conservative value is the possibility of persuasion. Conservatives tend to be driven by ideas, not identity politics. They espouse and argue for ideas because they believe it is quite possible to persuade others to agree with them.
John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of CarolinaJournal.com.
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