Colson: It's character, stupid

votingmachineGetReligion focuses on mainstream media, so we rarely pay much attention to religious media. We do pay attention, however, if writers over there choose to focus on issues in mainstream media coverage of religion or, like some of the pronouncements of Dr. James Dobson, they have things to say that are news in and of themselves. In this case, the evangelical activist Charles Colson, with his team or writers and researchers, has offered an interesting take on the issue of the day on one side of the political-sanctuary aisle. The BreakPoint commentary headline is interesting: "A Pounding at the Polls -- Why Conservatives Lost."

First of all, the headline is interesting because it is not precisely true. Republicans lost a score of very close elections, but in many cases they lost to conservatives -- conservative Democrats or, perhaps more accurately, populist Democrats. Does Colson equate (and many MSM commentators do the same thing) the words "conservative" and "Republican"? Also, did he really think that this razor-thin victory for the Democrats was bigger than it actually was? Were Republicans thumped, or simply defeated for a variety of valid reasons?

Anyway, here is the heart of what Colson had to say:

... The conservative movement, which had been gaining ground, has blown it. It has been defeated. Why? The answer is one that may startle you. Conservatives lost because they deserved to. They failed to live up to the high standards of personal behavior they preach about. And that's what brought them down.

Is there a double standard here? Why should the case of Mark Foley have helped bring down the Republicans? After all, twenty years ago a Democratic congressman, Gerry Studds, had an affair with a male page, disclosed that he was a homosexual, got his wrist slapped by the House, and then got re-elected! Why has Foley's indiscretion turned into Foley-gate?

The answer is because it's just the tip of the iceberg. Look at how the conservatives for years railed against the Democratic liberal establishment and all of its money, the lobbying establishment, the junkets, the payoffs. The conservatives campaigned against it in 1994, only to take over Washington and do exactly the same thing. This is what is known as rank hypocrisy.

Is it unfair that when conservatives do things liberals do, that they, the conservatives, are labeled as hypocrites? No. According to that great conservative thinker Russell Kirk, the first tenet of conservatism is the preservation of the moral order.

In other words, he says: It's character, stupid.

That's certainly part of what happened. So is voter fury at incompetence, and not just in Iraq. It is also interesting to note that, once again, many Americans elected not to vote their pocketbooks. They were thinking about other issues.

But there is little or no evidence that so-called Values Voters went away. Instead, they morphed into Integrity Voters, as several insiders have noted here inside the Beltway, and they divided over the war. The Democrats also gave them some attractive new options in key races, allowing them to vote populist and culturally conservative at the same time.

Once again, I think Steven Waldman of Beliefnet has one of the most reasoned takes on this. It really was a complex day, with complex causes. It will be interesting to see if others besides Colson, who remains a key leader among the old-guard Evangelical Alpha Males, elect to step forward or back as the GOP tries to settle its Libertarians vs. Cultural Conservatives schism.

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