The Breakfast Table

The Right May Be Wrong About Bush


Let me revise my hypothethical. Dinner with you or dinner with Lynne Cheney? No contest.

As self-deceptions go, the one that intrigues me the most isn’t Colin Powell’s (who sounds not just like a Democrat but like a Democrat who could actually get elected); it’s the religious right’s. On a national level, they seem to have convinced themselves that compassionate conservatism is a Trojan horse for social conservatism–that by supporting a far more moderate ticket than they’d like today, they’ll get the kind of access tomorrow that allows them to change minds, and pretty soon we’ll all be dropping to one knee before high-school football games and thanking Him in advance for a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. Let them think that. Christian conservatives wanted to win badly here in Texas in 1994 as well, when W. was running for governor against Ann Richards. They backed him enthusiastically and expected he’d back them in return, but pretty soon the archconservative members of the state Board of Education were trashing him in the press; one even wrote an Op-Ed in the Houston Chronicle attacking him for being too liberal. No matter how he’s positioning himself now, Bush has essentially governed as a moderate–not a centrist, mind you, but not his brother Jeb, either. The best example I can give you is his record of judicial appointments; not a right-winger or a nutcase in the bunch, which is why even his critics concede he isn’t likely to push to get Roe vs. Wade overturned or to appoint Supreme Court justices who will. (And that assumes he’s pro-life. I have a nagging suspicion he really isn’t, and that his wife isn’t, just as his parents weren’t at one time and may not be now, for all we know.) The bottom line is, women occasionally marry men, or so it’s said, with the idea of changing them. I don’t believe Bush is a husband who can or will be changed–though I do like the thought of Falwell in some low-cut Victoria’s Secret number waiting for W. at the door when he gets home from a hard day at the Oval Office.

Speaking of wives, I know better than to trifle with someone else’s, so let me throw my unconditional support to yours as Gore’s left-field choice. Or not, if that’s what she wants. Or maybe we can just get her a recurring role on The West Wing. (Let the record show that it took me all of a day and a half to get bored with the convention and segue into TV.) I know you’re not a fan of the show, Erik, and I’d like you to explain yourself. Maybe it has something to do with your having seen the machinery of the executive branch up close. Does it seem too tricked up and phony? To my untrained eyes, it’s a pretty compelling picture of how things work, or ought to. The people are smart and nice and well-intentioned, and they’re compassionate in a genuine rather than cynically political way. It’s a sorry state of affairs when a fake president is a more sympathetic figure than a real or prospective one. My hunch is that Josiah Bartlett would kick a little tail in Campaign 2000. I finally figured it out: Martin Sheen for vice president!