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Publication: Conservative Review
The Tearing of the Conservative Fusion

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                   January 8, 2008

The Tearing of the Conservative Fusion
By George Will

WASHINGTON - Like Job after losing his camels and acquir-
ing boils, the conservative movement is in distress. Mike 
Huckabee shreds the compact that has held the movement's 
two tendencies in sometimes uneasy equipoise. Social 
conservatives, many of whom share Huckabee's desire to 
"take back this nation for Christ," have collaborated with 
limited-government, market-oriented, capitalism-defending 
conservatives who want to take back the nation for James 
Madison. Under the doctrine that conservatives call 
"fusion," each faction has respected the other's agenda. 
Huckabee aggressively repudiates the Madisonians. 

He and John Edwards, flaunting their histrionic humility in 
order to promote their curdled populism, hawked strikingly 
similar messages in Iowa, encouraging self-pity and 
economic hypochondria. Edwards and Huckabee lament a shrink-
ing middle class. Well. 


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Economist Stephen Rose, defining the middle class as house-
holds with annual incomes between $30,000 and $100,000, 
says a smaller percentage of Americans are in that category 
than in 1979 -- because the percentage of Americans earning 
more than $100,000 has doubled from 12 to 24, while the 
percentage earning less than $30,000 is unchanged. "So," 
Rose says, "the entire 'decline' of the middle class came 
from people moving up the income ladder." Even as housing 
values declined in 2007, the net worth of households 

Huckabee told heavily subsidized Iowa -- Washington's 
ethanol enthusiasm has farm values and incomes soaring -- 
that Americans striving to rise are "pushed down every 
time they try by their own government." Edwards, synthetic 
candidate of theatrical bitterness on behalf of America's 
crushed, groaning majority, says the rich have an "iron-
fisted grip" on democracy and a "stranglehold" on the 
economy. Strangely, these fists have imposed a tax code 
that makes the top 1 percent of earners pay 39 percent of 
all income tax revenues, the top 5 percent pay 60 percent, 
and the bottom 50 percent pay only 3 percent. 

According to Edwards, the North Carolina of his youth 
resembled Chechnya today -- "I had to fight to survive. 
I mean really. Literally." Huckabee, a compound of Uriah 
Heep, Elmer Gantry and Richard Nixon, preens about his 
humble background: "In my family, 'summer' was never a 
verb." Nixon, who maundered about his parents' privations 
and wife's cloth coat, followed Lyndon Johnson, another 
miscast president whose festering resentments and status 
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Huckabee fancies himself persecuted by the Republican 
"establishment," a creature already negligible by 1964, 
when it failed to stop Barry Goldwater's nomination. The 
establishment's voice, the New York Herald Tribune, expired 
in 1966. Huckabee says "only one explanation" fits his Iowa 
success "and it's not a human one. It's the same power that 
helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a 
crowd of 5,000 people." God so loves Huckabee's politics 
that He worked a Midwest miracle on his behalf? Should 
someone so delusional control nuclear weapons? 

Speaking of delusions, Edwards seems unaware that the world 
market sets the price of oil. He says a $100-a-barrel price 
is evidence of -- surging demand in India and China? unrest 
in Nigeria's oil fields? No, "corporate greed." That is 
Edwards' explanation of every unpleasantness. Mitt Romney's 
versatility of conviction, although it repelled Iowans, has 
been a modest makeover compared to Edwards' personality 
transplant. The sunny Southerner of 2004 has become the 
angry paladin of the suffering multitudes, to whom he 
shouts: "Treat these people the way they treat you!" Pre-
sumably he means treat "the rich" badly -- an odious 
exhortation to one portion of Americans, regarding another. 

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Although Huckabee and Edwards profess to loathe and vow to 
change Washington's culture, each would aggravate its 
toxicity. Each overflows with and wallows in the pugnacity 
of the self-righteous who discern contemptible motives 
behind all disagreements with them, and who therefore think 
opponents are enemies and differences are unsplittable. 

The way to achieve Edwards' and Huckabee's populist goal of 
reducing the role of "special interests," meaning money, in 
government is to reduce the role of government in distribut-
ing money. But populists want to sharply increase that role 
by expanding the regulatory state's reach and enlarging 
its agenda of determining the distribution of wealth. 
Populists, who are slow learners, cannot comprehend this 
iron law: Concentrate power in Washington and you increase 
the power of interests whose representatives are concentrat-
ed there. 

Barack Obama, who might be mercifully closing the Clinton 
parenthesis in presidential history, is refreshingly 
cerebral amid this recrudescence of the paranoid style in 
American politics. He is the un-Edwards and un-Huckabee -- 
an adult aiming to reform the real world rather than an 
adolescent fantasizing mock-heroic "fights" against 
fictitious villains in a left-wing cartoon version of this 

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