I have a confession to make. Yesterday, I went to a Bush rally. The President came here to Wheeling, West Virginia to pay the good folks of the Rust Belt some quality time. And, since he is a pretty important guy, I waited for an hour in the rain to get advanced tickets; and then waited in the scorching hot sun another hour to get through the security gates. Like the postman, neither rain nor humidity would deter me from my goal.
The rhetoric was predictable: pretty much your standard stump speech, with extra emphasis on the steel tariffs to appeal to the local flavor of the steel working Ohio Valley. But then I suppose if you’ve managed to get even the unions to endorse you, you better play that up for all it’s worth. The speech was typical Bush, and could have been any or all of the speeches you’ve ever seen or heard him give. My seat wasn’t bad, except that I had to stare at the President’s but for an hour. My mother, who accompanied me, is an ardent Bush supporter. She spent the hour waving her giant “W” in the air and shouting “Four More Years.” I listened, more or less, with somewhat less enthusiasm and without displaying placards of any kind (though I did take pictures of the spectacle).
What was remarkable about the rally was that while the room was more or less supportive of the President, it was pretty subdued for a pep rally. That is to say that while there was cheering and banner waving and all the rest, it wasn’t anything like you see on TV (which perhaps explains why it didn’t make the TV news). And then it donned on me that the crowd was reluctant because many of them are still mulling it all over.
Although I did not take a poll, it seemed as though many folks were there because they were willing to hear the man out; after all, he is the President of the United States, and that counts for something in our society. You see, as I drove into Wheeling, though a veritable fortress of police cruisers stretched between the airport and downtown, people were lining up on the sidewalks along the President’s motor route because seeing the President is still something exciting and novel. Those folks didn’t line the streets to show their support (well, I suppose some of them did), but to see the car carrying the President. They turned out to see President Bush, not candidate Bush. And so those folks at the civic center were there out of respect and admiration of President Bush. And willing to listen to Candidate Bush if that’s what’s on the menu.
I cannot say what effect President Bush’s visit will have on the voting pattern of Wheeling-area residents. But what I can say with some confidence is that Mr. Mills is right. We libertarians are going to have to accept that our culture has endorsed the statist mentality, and we are enraptured by its symbols. Now, more than ever, we are going to have to craw into the trenches of compromise and do what we can to keep the system from veering too far into the chasm of “-isms” (socialism, fascism, etc.). The kindly old couple at the arena and those kids sitting in lawn chairs along Route 2 proves to me that we aren’t going to take this war on its merits. The best we can hope to do for now is help to shape the next battle, which is coming soon. There has never been a time where libertarian Democrats and libertarian Republicans have been needed. Since the libertarian experiment has failed to produce a unified political force, it’s time to start infiltrating. In the short run we can curb the excesses, help define the scope of the next battle, and make that battle winnable. The Bush rally got me all rowd’ up all right, just not in the way I think he intended. Now the question is whether our orthodoxy is flexible enough for sell-your-soul pragmatism.