The rank-and-file conservatives have been trained in much the same way as the Russian psychologist Pavlov trained his dogs — to salivate on cue. The cue this year is Kerry and the specter of a Democratic victory. As long as the strategists for Bush can wiggle that flag in front of conservative noses, they need not worry too much about what will happen on Election Day to the party’s base.

Yet sooner or later it may occur to that base that this is a game the party establishment has been playing for decades and that the longer they play it, the less reason the conservative base has to expect that it will ever get what it wants — not just language in the platform and the rhetoric of occasional presidential oratory, but actual policies and legislation that, with serious presidential and party support, can bring what conservatives believe into reality.

As long as rank and file conservatives are content to allow themselves to be stampeded into the Republican corral by the red flag of a Democratic victory, they can expect the Republicans they elect and re-elect to betray them. If the right wing now finally sees betrayal, as the headline reported, it really has no one to blame but its own willingness to support those who perpetrate betrayal year after year, election after election.~ Samuel Francis

The Republican conditioning of many sincere and quasi-conservatives, as well as many less politically conscious voters, has brought about a remarkable response from the test subjects, er, constituents. Even before an acceptance speech that could not have convinced or inspired anyone not already deeply committed to Mr. Bush, all initial indications showed that Kerry’s advantage, even in states where he led solidly only two weeks ago, such as my own New Mexico, had vanished, and that nationally Mr. Bush was supposed to have held a commanding lead.

It would be hard to explain this change, given Mr. Bush’s atrocious governance, if it were not for the near-hysterical fear of a “liberal” takeover encouraged by last week’s convention and cultivated in the pages of erstwhile conservative publications and on the airwaves of talk radio. Not only have the miniscule policy differences between the parties been exaggerated to mobilise foolish voters, but the election has been cast in near-apocalyptic terms, so that the very fate of the country rests in the hands of this electorate. Thank God that this is nonsense.

There can hardly be a “liberal” takeover from the ruinous, wasteful government of the GOP Congress over the last ten years, and there has been no president in the last thirty years more liberal in his foreign policy goals and actions than Mr. Bush. Mr. Bush believes he has a very clever line when he denies that Sen. Kerry is a conservative (as if this were a major theme in the senator’s campaign!), but he should perhaps spend more time convincing his constituents that he is not a wild-eyed liberal. Republicans have undoubtedly shown what most intelligent observers knew for years–that Kerry is dishonest about his own career. Now they might want to spend some time convincing the skeptics that Mr. Bush has any integrity beyond the sort exemplified by his steadfastness-in-error approach regarding Iraq.

If the Republicans want to bash Kerry’s weaknesses on defense, they should also explain why their president sent in an insufficient number of forces with shortages of ammunition, armour, fuel and other supplies into a war zone, and why those shortages continued long after the “mission” was “accomplished.” In other words, why not accept the confessed liberal when the alternative is a liberal who refuses to face up to his own actions and policies?

The change, if Kerry were to win, would be almost unnoticeable. The apocalypse will not occur, no matter who wins. The sobering fact is that American presidential elections almost never change major policy trends, and this one has the least potential to change them of any election since perhaps 1872. Both parties will continue to misgovern our still-good country at the behest of the ignorant public, and in spite of their depredations that country will endure in some respectable form.

If conservatives were interested in restoring her form to something like what she once was, or at least restore her to sanity, decency and civilisation, they might refrain from drinking so deeply of the Republican campaign potions and regain some sense of proportion and balance. The sad and yet strangely reassuring thing is that this election will change so very little that a victory for either candidate is cause neither to lament or rejoice very much. Either way, it will be a vote for the same failed worldview, failed assumptions and failed policies of the past; the only difference will be the euphemisms each side uses to mask that failure. Indeed, the change will be so minute that an angry electorate will once again be pounding on the doors of Congress in two years’ time, figuratively speaking, demanding an end to the status quo, gridlock and incompetent government in a fashion reminiscent of 1992 or 1994.

All current positive signs for Mr. Bush are tempered by the reality that large sections of his traditional constituencies may not turn out for him at all, or in severely reduced numbers, because they may have begun to realise that he has championed none of their causes with any seriousness. Those things apparently dearest to his heart on the domestic front are the appalling drug entitlement and the abhorrent centralisation of education–that is what he has wrought (in addition to attempting to gut the First Amendment with his approval of the dreadful campaign finance bill). Conservatives who do not know that this man represents everything they oppose and perhaps much of what they despise may as well accept that their political lives will be vain and futile, because they do not understand the first thing about Mr. Bush or conservatism.

If pro-life activists, for instance, actually want their convictions taken seriously, then they must take political actions that do not condemn their views to the unserious position of being grateful to win the pitiful victory of the “platform plank.” They must face up to the fact that Roe v. Wade was confirmed by a Republican-appointed majority, and that more Republican judges, especially under the aegis of “compassionate conservatism,” will only repeat these same mistakes. The pro-life position has now simply become a footnote to one of the least pro-life administrations of the last twenty-five years, and yet they may re-elect this administration, which is all the more reason why the interests and agenda of pro-life voters will never be taken seriously by the Republican Party.

It may be jarring for pro-life activists and conservatives (they may not be the same thing) to think of this administration as being anti-life, as one might say, but it is difficult to square an administration that launches a war of aggression with one that claims to value and respect every life. The Vatican knows the difference, and I submit that all thinking Christian voters also know the difference once they give it a moment’s thought. This is not just a question of the manifest lack of concern for Iraqi lives demonstrated by the administration, which is usually dismissed with a callous reference to “collateral damage” or a chauvinistic “better them than us” rhetoric, but it is also the contempt for life that a policymaker committed to a strategy of aggressive war must possess. Such a strategy and the contempt it must represent are not pleasing to God–I think I am on fairly solid ground in saying this. If sincere and quasi-conservatives want to fight the culture of death, they must first fight their collaboration with it in their embrace of jingoism and their support for the modern Republican Party. To do that they must snap out of their conditioning and begin thinking for themselves once more.