The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By Suzanne Fields

oder­ate Re­pub­li­can” wasn’t al­ways an oxy­moron, but now it is. Pol­i­tics is about op­po­sites in search of com­pro­mise, and mod­er­ates only make fat tar­gets in a cross­fire, shot by friend and foe. If the best ideas are drawn from strong de­bate, even at the ex­treme, mod­er­ates usu­ally dis­ap­pear in the mush of the mid­dle.

Harsh, take-no-pris­on­ers rhetoric might frighten the chil­dren and horses (women are no longer eas­ily scared) but that’s the sharp­ness and live­li­ness that keeps good ideas com­ing and gives “con­ser­va­tive” and “lib­eral” real mean­ing. Even ex­ag­ger­ated, the rhetoric fo­cuses ex­pec­ta­tions of where a can­di­date wants to take the coun­try.

Mitt Rom­ney, who clearly looked like a mod­er­ate as gov­er­nor of Mas­sachusetts, doesn’t want to be one now. He makes fair points de­fend­ing him­self as a con­ser­va­tive gov­er­nor elected to lead a lib­eral state — per­haps the most lib­eral of all the states — and in­sists that what he ac­com­plished in Bos­ton is not what he wants to ac­com­plish in Washington. Mas­sachusetts con­stituents de­manded gov­ern­ment-man­dated health care, and when his leg­is­la­ture, which was 85 per­cent Demo­cratic, passed the leg­is­la­tion, he signed it. He had no lever­age with a veto that could with­stand an over­whelm­ing Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity. He says now that a sim­i­lar na­tional man­date is a bad idea. He prom­ises, if elected, to get rid of Oba­macare. That doesn’t sound like mush, but it’s also fair to re­call the folk apho­rism that “what you do speaks so loud we can’t hear what you say.”

He wants to re­turn max­i­mum au­thor­ity to the states to in­no­vate health care so­lu­tions that work best when de­signed by the peo­ple who pay for them. States’ rights and states’ pre­rog­a­tives sound pretty con­ser­va­tive.

Rick San­to­rum’s rhetoric moves the so­cial is­sues so far to the mar­gins that he had to re­cruit his wife to re­as­sure us that he’s mak­ing noise louder than it sounds, much like Mark Twain’s re­mark that some mu­sic is bet­ter than it sounds. “I think women have noth­ing to fear when it comes to con­tra­cep­tives,” Karen San­to­rum told CNN, be­cause “he will do noth­ing on that is­sue.” She says her hus­band wouldn’t al­low his re­li­gious be­lief to dic­tate pol­icy, that he is re­ally most con­cerned that Barack Obama is try­ing to force peo­ple to go against their con­science. Her de­fense would be more per­sua­sive if John F. Kennedy’s ring­ing de­fense of sepa­ra­tion of church and state, which we thought had erased the tra­di­tional wari­ness of a Ro­man Catholic pres­i­dent, hadn’t made her hus­band want to throw up. She paints an en­dear­ing picture of a sup­port­ive hus­band, cheer­fully chang­ing di­a­pers, fix­ing sup­per and clean­ing the kitchen when she was away on a book tour, but we’re not elect­ing a hus­band-in-chief.

Mitt Rom­ney and Rick San­to­rum have emerged as the faces of the Re­pub­li­can Party, and those faces re­flect the split be­tween fis­cal con­ser­va­tives and so­cial con­ser­va­tives. The split is real but not in­sur­mount­able. Mr. Rom­ney took big steps to­ward the nom­i­na­tion with a de­ci­sive vic­tory in Illi­nois, where for the first time, close to a ma­jor­ity of Repub­li­cans voted for the man with an em­pha­sis on eco­nomic, not so­cial, pol­icy. The mes­sage they sent is that Job 1 is to re­place Mr. Obama; their con­cerns are about con­tin­ued high un­em­ploy­ment, the price of gaso­line and a na­tional debt that threat­ens to for­feit their chil­dren’s fu­ture.

“Don’t make [the elec­tion] about who can best man­age Washington, or be the CEO of the econ­omy,” Mr. San­to­rum told Illi­nois vot­ers. Well he might say that, be­cause many Repub­li­cans see him as Mr. Rom­ney de­scribes him: “an eco­nomic light­weight.” The two men are not far apart in their ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the peril in the Obama view of the world. There’s a deep and wide gulf be­tween them on the econ­omy. That’s where Mr. Obama has failed, and that’s where new lead­er­ship has to take us.

Mr. Rom­ney’s re­peated de­scrip­tion of him­self — as the can­di­date who knows busi­ness, who has ex­pe­ri­ence in the pri­vate sec­tor, who learned first­hand how high taxes de­stroy en­tre­pre­neur­ial job cre­ation and how bal­anced bud­gets de­ter­mine whether busi­nesses thrive or fail — has be­come cliche. But that, it seems to me, is what we must re­mem­ber. The pres­i­dent’s reg­u­la­tors, he ob­serves, would have shut down the Wright broth­ers for “dust pol­lu­tion” and banned Thomas Edi­son’s light bulb for over­heat­ing the at­mos­phere.

Ge­of­frey Kabaser­vice, in his new book “Rule and Ruin,” sounds the lament that mod­er­ates have dis­ap­peared from the Grand Old Party. He re­grets that Mitt is not more like his fa­ther, Ge­orge, who self-de­struc­ted as an early Re­pub­li­can can­di­date for pres­i­dent in 1968. But the cam­paign of 2012 is about con­ser­va­tive prin­ci­ples di­rect­ing eco­nomic free­dom. There’s noth­ing mod­er­ate about that.


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