Conservative Apathy Threatens Homeland

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This column was written by Fred Barnes.
David Kuo, once an official of President Bush's faith-based initiative, published a book this month that attacks the White House for privately ridiculing evangelical Christians while cynically manipulating how they vote. The book arrived, cynically enough, just in time for the midterm election — an election Kuo says Christians should boycott. Meanwhile, the mainstream media, like sportswriters cheerleading for the home team, is predicting a landslide in the interest of promoting one. Their home team, of course, is the Democrats. As for Republican efforts to spur a big turnout on November 7, the press frowns on such cheap tactics. "GOP Aims to Scare Up Big Voter Turnout" was the headline on a Washington Post story last week.

If you suspect there are forces eager to suppress Republican turnout, you are right. Rarely has the press echoed Democratic themes as relentlessly as it has in the closing weeks of the 2006 campaign. And the main theme is that Republicans are about to be blown away. The question now is whether this message will persuade Republican voters to stay home on Election Day. It shouldn't, so long as Republicans — and especially conservative Republicans — act like adults, not like petulant children angry over one thing or another that didn't go their way.

Yes, the Republican performance in the last two years has been disappointing. The Iraq war isn't going well. President Bush and the Republican Congress have spent too much of the taxpayers' money. They got nowhere on overhauling Social Security and only part of the way — beefed-up border security — on immigration reform. The list goes on. Still, the reasons given for staying home on Election Day are pathetically disconnected from the realities of politics and political power.

The president and Republicans need to be taught a lesson: We hear that a lot from conservatives. And maybe Bush and company do. But allowing Democrats to take over Congress won't achieve that. It won't lead to a Republican course correction any more than losing the 2000, 2002, and 2004 elections taught Democrats to move to the right. Politics doesn't work that way, and it never has. Losing simply hurts a political party. A landslide loss in 2006 would merely weaken the Republican Party. And, for the foreseeable future, the Republican Party is the only vehicle through which conservatives and moderates can accomplish their goals.

Would Democrats join with social and religious conservatives to curb abortion and block same-sex marriage? Never in a million years. Would Democrats please small-government conservatives by cutting taxes and limiting spending growth? Not a chance. Would they thrill libertarians by pursuing privatization of Social Security or by resisting the demands of the global-warming faddists for a full-blown regulatory state? Don't bet on it. Would they satisfy moderates by compromising with conservatives? Only under duress. Rather, the prerequisite for attaining any of these goals is a Republican Congress. It's as uncomplicated as that.

The other ballyhooed reason for not showing up on Election Day is that Democrats, once in power again, will misbehave so egregiously that Republicans will roar back in 2008, stronger and more conservative than ever. No doubt Republicans thought this in 1954 when Democrats won back both houses of Congress. But that was followed by 40 years of Democratic control of the House and 26 years of Democratic rule in the Senate. And for most of those years, Democrats held on to power in defiance of a rising conservative tide in the country. They know how to keep power once they get it.

National elections are always important. But they are supremely important when America is at war. In Islamic jihadism, we face a foe that is eager to kill Americans in large numbers and as ruthless as it was on 9/11. The difference now is that Democrats no longer want to carry on a real war against terrorists.

In speech after speech, President Bush has evoked the famous words of Winston Churchill in the dark days of February 1941. Churchill declared: "We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job."

Today, Democrats would deny the president the tools. They would weaken, if not eliminate, the Patriot Act. They would halt the tough but entirely legal interrogations of terrorist leaders that have proved so successful in uncovering and thwarting plots to strike America a second time and perhaps a third or a fourth. They would constrain the National Security Agency from eavesdropping on terrorist phone calls to and from America.

In short, Democrats don't take the terrorist threat seriously. They wince when Bush brings up 9/11. They regard his war on terrorism as more a political strategy for winning elections than a necessary plan to wage an offensive battle against terrorists around the world.

Conservatives in particular should know better. They claim to be the grownups of American politics. They understand what's at stake in the struggle against Islamist terrorists. For them to skip out on their obligation to vote in this election over a petty grievance — or, for that matter, over a not-so-petty grievance — would mark them as politically childish.

Kuo, by the way, has been embraced by the media, welcomed everywhere from 60 Minutes to the Colbert Report. His tale of White House hypocrisy in dealing with religious conservatives is bogus. We know this from the number of religious conservatives in high positions at the White House: Bush himself, Mike Gerson, Karen Hughes, Peter Wehner, Tim Goeglein, and that's just for starters. Colbert asked Kuo why he wrote the book. "Because I think someone had to point out that Jesus and George W. Bush are different people," he said. Who knew?

Fred Barnes, for the Editors.

By Fred Barnes