Normally in presidential primaries, moderate candidates wind up getting pushed to the fringe by the positions taken by their opponents. George W. Bush, though, has done it all on his own. Without John McCain taunting him to take harder positions, the Texas governor has moved so far right in South Carolina, you would think his core constituents are dead members of the Confederate army.
I am not referring to the Confederate flag issue. On this one, Bush and McCain are even. They both have no position and unless everything else they ever said about racial harmony is a lie, both are just ducking the issue. The flag is the bloody shirt of Jim Crow and of bullies with too much beer. It is no longer the proud emblem of a lost cause.
But Bush and McCain are not even when it comes to Bob Jones University. This South Carolina school, once restricted to whites on the basis of some cockeyed religious belief, continues to forbid interracial dating because, among other things, that's how God feels about the matter. It's where Bush chose to speak and, on the issue of bigotry, say absolutely nothing.
It's not that McCain was about to speak there, and Bush had to beat him to the punch. It's not that McCain already had mapped out a value-free position on racial bigotry. McCain had never been invited to the school, but if he had gone there, he said on Tuesday in the South Carolina debate, he would have started by saying: ``Look, what you're doing in this ban on interracial dating, is stupid, it's idiotic, and it is incredibly cruel to many people.''
Bush felt otherwise. Bob Jones, as he has so patiently explained, is where the votes are. Never mind that by appearing at the school he was offering de facto support of its policies. And never mind either that the school still considers Catholicism and Mormonism to be cults.
``I went because I wanted to get out my message of compassionate conservatism,'' he said on Meet The Press.
Only off the campus did Bush say he disagreed with the school's policy. He said that his brother Florida governor Jeb Bush had ``married a girl from Mexico.'' But the point he was making -- again -- is that he has no principles.
He will not comment on the Confederate flag. He will speak to any group -- racial or religious bigots included -- and never confront them over their practices. He has no opinion, absolutely none, about whether a kid in Kansas should grow up ignorant of evolution.
Bush is a unique politician. Most politicians stand for very little; he stands for nothing.
But he does not stand alone. Bush has rung the firehouse bell in GOP nuttydom, and look who's come down the pole. We get Rush Limbaugh frothing about McCain being adored by liberal Democrats, and the Rev. Pat Robertson taking time off from his studies of macroeconomics to wage holy war against the Arizona senator.
My hat's off to Bush. Without really being pushed, he has moved to the extreme right all by himself. He has embraced the coo-coo vote, the bitter-enders who don't know that the Civil War is over and the South already has risen -- not as a cause, alas, but as a vast suburb. He has recited his anti-abortion devotions and been adopted by racists and conspiracy theorists -- the worst elements in the GOP.
Here we come to the nub of the matter. Bush, like all the other candidates, prattles on a good bit about leadership.
Alan Keyes suggested on Tuesday that Bush has shown precious little of it at Bob Jones University. On the other hand, without much prodding, Bush raced to the extreme right all by himself, out there on that flank with Robertson and the guys from Bob Jones U. Maybe Bush thinks that's a form of leadership. He's wrong. He's merely keeping up with the Joneses.
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