I have very good news for liberals who are convinced that armies of theocrats have seized complete control of the Republican Party. At least, I think it's good news. It seems that the theocrats have vanished, according to the Washington Post Style section.
Then again, it could be that the theocrats are so powerful that the Style section doesn't even have to mention them anymore, when writing about the deep divisions inside the GOP about the nomination of Sen. John McCain for president.
Oh my, maybe there there is another option. Perhaps the theocrats have taken control of the Style section itself and, as part of their evil strategery, they prevented reporters from mentioning the theocrats, to lull progressives into falling asleep. That would be a perfect conspiracy theory. Try to disprove that one.
Anyway, the feature in question by Kevin Merida ran with the headline "Empty, Open Arms -- John McCain Wants Conservatives by His Side. Fine, They Say, Just Move This Way." Lots of the usual suspects -- think leaders standing around at the Conservative Political Action Conference -- play leading roles, but some do not. That's the point. Dr. James Dobson is MIA.
The key is the statement that McCain has to unite "all wings of the party." The word "all" is crucial. So we see passages such as this one:
McCain strategist Charlie Black pointed to recent national polls that show his candidate, on average, getting 85 percent of the Republican vote against either prospective Democratic nominee. "We don't have a huge problem at the voter level," noted Black. "It only matters what happens in November, and McCain is popular with Republican rank-and-file voters."
As conservatives see it, here's the problem right now: In 24 primaries and caucuses, McCain never once carried voters who identified themselves as "very conservative," according to exit polls. And in a majority of the Republican nominating contests, those voters represented a third or more of the total voter turnout. Similarly, the exit polls show, McCain fared poorly with Republican voters who said the most important quality in a candidate is someone who "shares my values."
So the "values" word is in play. These values "conservatives" want to be courted. And who are they?
"John McCain gives the impression that he needs the conservatives to come to him," said Bay Buchanan, a conservative activist. "Basically, we've been abused for a dozen years here, and he gives us this fatherly kindness and expects us to get in line. He has to give us a reason to vote for him because his record is not enough for us."
Abused for a dozen years? This sense of beleaguerment -- if not entitlement -- is a familiar conservative posture. This is the wing that believes it built the modern Republican Party, that licked the stamps for the direct-mail operations and fueled the growth of talk radio. This is the wing that hands out the fliers outside churches and provides much of the passion and energy needed to combat opponents in national elections. This is the wing that likes its candidates to bow down and pledge fealty.
So these "conservatives" are outside churches handing out fliers, but it does not appear that their leaders or concerns have made it into this story.
Meanwhile, the fiscal conservatives show up (they are making happy noises now) and, of course, so do the czars of talk radio. And there is talk of needed a true conservative in the VP slot.
But where, oh where, are the theocrats? Should the left be happy, sad or (yikes) paranoid? Then again, perhaps this Post story simply has a giant hole in it.
Illustration: The kind of iconography that one sees in anti-theocrat territory online.