I’ve mentioned “fusionism” before, the conservative effort to yoke together free markets and traditionalism — something that William F. Buckley (like me, more or less) genuinely believed in but also something that’s a convenient way of providing a political coalition with a coherent philosophy that appears to resolve its internal tensions.
The tricky part about holding a coalition together, of course, is that when it starts to fray, your factions may each decide that its pet issue is the fundamental one, the only one that matters, that there can be no compromise on it:
•I admit I’m not willing to compromise very much on the fiscal conservatism that to me looks like the valuable part of the right-wing coalition — and looks to me like the bedrock of that “civilization” thing conservatives are supposed to be trying to protect, capitalism being the source of our freedom and prosperity. If McCain, after last night the official winner of the Republican nomination, doesn’t cut the federal budget, he’s useless to me.
•By contrast, last night I spoke to a Jewish lesbian for McCain — as an Israeli, she says her top priority is having someone hawkish enough to bomb our mutual enemies when necessary. And one can understand seeing self-defense as the first priority of any civilization.
•And I’m sure the Debate at Lolita Bar I’m hosting tonight (and you’re attending) on illegal immigration will have (a) people in the audience who think that the U.S. is first and foremost a nation of immigrants that should not be trying to drive away those eager to be here and (b) people in the audience who, as social conservatives, think laws controlling who can cross the border are the very defining thing that constitutes a nation and makes it a sovereign entity in the first place (even a subset of libertarians, not normally sticklers for following legal decrees, think that, including one who officially lost the Republican nomination for president — and his home state — last night, for those still paying close attention).
I think McCain’s success so far is proving (as the fairly mushy Bill Clinton did in 1992 and as the triangulating Hillary and vague Obama are proving today) that despite what nearly everyone says about valuing principle, the key to success in electoral politics is and perhaps always will be being amorphous enough to satisfy various factions who have rigidly-held principles, not necessarily being principled yourself. As I said way back in 2006, McCain is just fiscally conservative enough to make me think he’s probably preferable to a Democrat, certainly hawkish enough (and without being pro-torture) to satisfy that Israeli woman, and socially conservative enough for the pro-life crowd.
And despite that amnesty-for-illegals bill he sought, his recent emphasis on border-enforcement-first might even make him law-and-order enough for the anti-illegal-immigration crowd come November (you can try gauging that by watching tonight’s crowd).
But when, inevitably, he finds it advantageous to talk out of both sides of his mouth on the issue, as successful politicians generally do, perhaps he should actually play up the fact that he was born in the Panama Canal zone on a U.S. military base. Sure, some see it as reason to question his constitutional eligibility, so he may not want to talk about it too much, but think of the way he could tailor that fact of his bio for different crowds, helping to continue holding his shaky coalition together:
“Like some of you, mi amigos, I was born south of the border…”
“I came to this country legally, as every newcomer should…”
“Militarily ready? I was born militarily ready…”
“As a product of the Panama Canal zone, I am the heir of Teddy Roosevelt’s Republican legacy in more ways than one, and our next great national project should be…”
Let me also suggest that while the stereotype of people from south of the border as lazy is fast becoming one of the most obsolete archaisms in the history of American labor, McCain, whose campaign funds have been a bit lower than desired, might want to go on vacation for the next five months and let Hillary and Obama continue to destroy each other, then resume campaigning after the Republican convention at the end of the summer. Just a thought.