As the United States looks to another presidential election, the largely unreported story is that contemporary new-era politics may well make our Catholic social teaching triumphant. Yes, I know it seems improbable given that many of our peers proclaim the dearth of salient personalities, lack of gusto, and conservatism’s general air of feeble Reaganesque imitation, but they should go back to college.
Remember, presidential elections are not national but conducted within the Electoral College as individual contests in each of the fifty states. Gallup may show Bill Clinton within distance of reelection, but it is a hallucination.
Indeed as one-time Democratic party analyst Charles Cook points out, while the president’s national stock is slowly rising, his approval rate is barely 50% and in a two-way race would be behind in big-ticket southern and Great Plains states with the prize, California, fading from grasp. While Ross Perot may siphon from the Republicans, the increasing likelihood of Jesse Jackson’s bid as an independent would seem fatal to Clinton. In every election since 1968 the presidential winner has been in actuality or appearance more conservative than his major party rival. Thus it appears Bill Clinton will lose.
Lose to whom? Aged Bob Dole? Yes, and despite all his imperfections, Dole has voted consistently pro-life. Indeed, under fire by social conservatives, he is now grasping at every traditionalist tenet in Christendom.
If Dole fades who comes to the fore? Not Colin Powell, whose pullout had much to do with conservative opposition to his Clintonesque views on abortion and gun control. His early-voiced distaste for Republican philosophy and ill-considered blame of patrons Ronald Reagan, Caspar Weinberger, and George Bush for racial insensitivity destroyed what could have been a threatening pro-abortion GOP presidential candidacy.
What needs to be watched is a Powell comeback as vice presidential nominee (no matter his disinclination) since Republicans believe in primogeniture. But now the general endorses conservatism, citing the need to strengthen families and encourage “a sense of shame in society.”
As a result, if Dole is to lose the GOP nomination, it will likely be to Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas. His twang is greeted by hallelujahs in the vote- rich south, his homely aphorisms with enthusiastic grins in the west.
Dole, Gramm, and Lamar Alexander cannot stray from the party’s social conservative base without being eaten alive by the invaluable second-string Catholic competitors — Pat Buchanan, Alan Keyes, and Robert Dornan. But when pro-lifer Dick Lugar (a man one might hire as president) speaks, the Indiana senator makes watching paint dry seem exciting.
The entry of pro-choice Steve Forbes is unlikely to change the calculus except in New Hampshire where his freedom from federal spending limits may make a difference. At least Ross Perot has a rags to riches story to tell. Forbes’s tale ends with his birth. Independent Perot himself has lost much of the old luster, even with his newly announced third party, since everyone including Clinton now spouts the gasconnade of reduced spending. At the bottom rung, Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) follows the lascivious impulses of the sixties — abortion and gay rights.
The truth always has hard sledding — but allow your subscriptions to the New York Times and Washington Post, Time and Newsweek to lapse. It is indisputable that the Senate will remain in reasonably conservative hands. After six Democratic incumbents determined not to seek reelection in 1994, tying a fifty-four year record, Democrats lost eight more seats and suffered two switches to the GOP. The House is chancier — but with a sixteen vote Republican edge it may remain conservative, aided by leakage of Democratic members noted more for their survival instincts than cranial indices.
Why has this happened? Because, due to “reform,” American politics has been tossed to and fro by a cyclone of contradictory winds where ideological interest groups have all but transcended the parties. They certainly have escaped party control, giving an unexpectedly bright chance to Republican and socially conservative leadership for a least a full generation.
All this, and losing Bob Packwood too, means that the exertion of social conservative laryngeal and respiratory muscles is wasted on despair.