Bill Kristol makes the very sound and sensible point that movements composed of happy warriors are the only kind that tend to succeed in American politics--and with good reason. In the course of making this important point, he leads up to an attempt to elicit good cheer on the part of those elements of the conservative movement who--in all likelihood--are going to find themselves much distressed come Wednesday morning. (Is it any coincidence, by the way, that this Wednesday also happens to be ASH Wednesday . . . ashes to ashes . . .?)
My big quibble with Kristol’s otherwise sound advice in this piece is that I would suggest some re-phrasing at the end. He borders on the indignant (without, as yet, demonstrating a good reason for indignation) when noting the virulent reactions many conservatives have had in the face of a pending McCain coronation. He chooses words like "temper tantrum" and suggests that we not "close our eyes" to McCain’s virtues. Accusing others of temper tantrums at this stage in the game is not the sword I’d choose to defend support for Senator McCain. With that last bit about closing the eyes, however, I do have some sympathy. Problematic as John McCain is, he is not Hillary Clinton and certainly not Barack Obama. But it is condescending--right now--to suggest that anger at McCain (even anger that leads people to say wildly imprudent things) is the same thing as closing one’s eyes to the differences. We’re still in a primary and Romney though seriously wounded and probably seeking life support, is not yet dead. His supporters and McCain’s detractors are right to say what they will and to elucidate the differences as they see them and with as much force as they deem necessary. If that wounds John McCain, I’d suggest then that it’s a wounding he’s brought upon himself and probably one that he needs. I hope he begins to feel it and to make amends (as we enter the season of Lent!). It will be nothing compared to the wounding the Democrats are going to try and give him.
Kristol’s larger point for the conservative movement, however, is that in many ways this fight has got nothing to do with John McCain or Mitt Romney or, even, Mike Huckabee. It’s about the many fragmented elements of the conservative coalition. His discussion of what it is that conservatives are trying to do and what makes their efforts so difficult in a liberal democracy is worthy of committing to memory. His call to recognize the limits of the possible is less a capitulation to the zeitgeist than a call to arms. We should be happy warriors and press on--not only because it will make us more successful--but more because we’ve got much about which we ought to be happy. First among the things that ought to inspire a cheerful tone should be the knowledge that the smallest of our successes have produced greater felicity for our country than the combined results of the grand delusions concocted by the opposition. We need to focus our efforts on them and their schemes and to do this sooner rather than later.