‚??Conservatism is a hard choice for a society that has become accustomed to big government and big entitlements promoted by liberals.‚?Ě — Jesse Helms
‚??Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.‚?Ě — Barry Goldwater
Many conservatives are nervous as the Republican National Convention kicks off. They know they won‚??t be hearing anything close to the no-compromise declarations of Helms and Goldwater. John McCain is working hard to convince conservatives he is one of us even as he surrounds himself with prominent moderates, including Rudy Giuliani, Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and Sen. Joseph Lieberman.
Yes, conservatives will have their say at the convention: Vice President Dick Cheney, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oka.), and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) are scheduled to speak. But the potential inconsistency in the message of the Republican Convention is troubling.
The moderate tone of the convention doesn‚??t mean that conservatives lack true champions in the policy sphere. The nonpartisan National Journal and the American Conservative Union publish annual ratings of the most liberal and conservative members, but usually less than 10 points separates conservatives and moderates, and these tend to be very partisan votes. Many conservatives buck the Republican Party and President Bush on certain issues because they are taking a principled conservative stands.
Two great examples of conservatives drawing a line in the sand on ideology: opposing the President‚??s Emergency Plan or AIDS Relief to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria overseas to the tune of $48 billion in your tax dollars (only 16 conservative votes) and the override of President Bush‚??s veto of a $23 billion for 900 water resource development projects (only 14 conservative votes).
To find the true conservatives, one must look at votes that were ideological. Twenty-eight Senate votes, ranging from education and health care to national security and foreign aid, are particularly revealing. Looking for the next Helms or Goldwater? Consider Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), the only senator to vote the conservative position all 28 times in a study of Senate votes over the past two years.
If conservatives were running a presidential ticket that included only senators, DeMint would top the ticket and Tom Coburn (R-Oka.) would be his running mate. Coburn voted the conservative position 93% of the time and registered second in this study. Twelve Senators would receive a B in ‚??Loving American and Respecting the Constitution:‚?Ě Jim Inhofe (R-Oka.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), John Ensign (R-Nev.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), David Vitter (R-La.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), Mike Enzi (R-Wy.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John Barrasso (R-Wy.). Americans are lucky to have their own conservative ‚??Gang of 14‚?Ě that fights for freedom, opportunity, prosperity and a civil society.
And we shouldn‚??t forget the conservative legacy of the late Craig Thomas (R-Wy.). Before his untimely death, he ranked in the top five conservative senators.
McCain is among 11 senators who would receive a C: acceptable, but hardly worthy of a Goldwater award. The senators who squeaked by with a passing grade include: Larry Craig (R-Idaho), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), John Thune (R-S.D.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). They failed to oppose a minimum-wage increase, a misguided $21 billion education proposal, an ethanol mandate, a 107,000-acre land grab by the federal government, an earmark-riddled transportation measure, and efforts to expand the government‚??s power to regulate consumer products.
Nine senators scraped by with a C-. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), John Sununu (R-N.H), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Kit Bond (R-Mo.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) failed to oppose a $2 million earmark for ‚??cultural‚?Ě education, an 11% increase in Labor-HHS-Education spending, and increasing federal regulations over student loan lenders.
Unfortunately, nearly two-thirds of the U.S. Senate would receive a D or F: 15 Republicans, two Independents and 49 Democrats. Failing at conservatism, it would seem, is not a partisan activity either. Admittedly, a vote scorecard does have its limits, because it doesn‚??t always account for courageous stands some members make through the Senate‚??s archaic rules. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) deserves extra credit for his dogged fight to pare down the housing bailout bill and his harsh criticism of the proposals of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson before the Senate Banking Committee earlier this summer.
Conservatives, take comfort. Champions still exist in Congress. America needs the next Helms or Goldwater. Fortunately America has Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn and 12 other senators willing to stand for what‚??s right.