Friday, December 14, 2007

Caring and Repairing

Peggy Noonan's latest column is widely noted elsewhere for its rhetorical question about how religion-obsessed the GOP has become:

I wonder if our old friend Ronald Reagan could rise in this party, this environment. Not a regular churchgoer, said he experienced God riding his horse at the ranch, divorced, relaxed about the faiths of his friends and aides, or about its absence. He was a believing Christian, but he spent his adulthood in relativist Hollywood, and had a father who belonged to what some saw, and even see, as the Catholic cult. I'm just not sure he'd be pure enough to make it in this party. I'm not sure he'd be considered good enough.

I suspect she and I agree on the answer to that. But then, it was the Reagan campaigns and administrations that helped set this juggernaut in motion. Reagan's rhetoric wooed the evangelical vote, but his administrations generally kept the "Christian nation" types at arm's length from any real policy-making. You even could argue that Noonan, as one of his speechwriters, played a part in that.

Well, they may be creationists, but they're not fools. Eventually they learned how to work the party ropes and Washington wires and now it seems the Bush Administration has yielded -- willingly or not -- important chunks of executive turf to this core group. It's probably been most visible in the Justice Department, where the sharp rise in the number of employees from Regent University has been noted and debated.

Future Republican presidents -- should there be any -- probably will have to grapple with the same power-sharing arrangement. Unless the whole GOP base comes unglued over the attempt to marginalize the evangelicals. And there's a simmering resentment out there already.

Noonan's column also looks at Hillary's campaign. But I thought she made her best observation toward the end, noting how the comments of nearly all the candidates with regard to immigration have been both heated and insincere. It's not a paradox. It reflects the gap between the political elite and the average American:

Because politicians see immigration as just another issue in "the game," they feel compelled to speak of it not with honest indifference but with hot words and images. With a lack of sympathy. This is in contrast to normal Americans, who do not use hot words, and just want the problem handled and the rule of law returned to the borders.

Politicians, that is, distort the debate, not because they care so much but because they care so little.

Hillary Clinton is not up at night worrying about the national-security implications of open borders in the age of terror. She's up at night worrying about whether to use Mr. Obama's position on driver's licenses for illegals against him in ads or push polls.

A real and felt concern among the candidates about immigration is a rare thing. And people can tell. They can tell with both parties. This is the real source of bitterness in this debate. It's not regnant racism. It's knowing the political class is incapable of caring, and so repairing.