THE LEFT IS TAKING GREAT DELIGHT IN THE spectacle of conservative leaders getting hoisted by their own moralistic petard. Rush Limbaugh, the scourge of '60s self-indulgence, turns out to be a drug addict. Bill Bennett, the morality czar who wrote the book on virtue, was exposed as a high-rolling gambler. And Newt Gingrich was only one of the Republican statesmen who were excoriating Bill Clinton's sex scandal while they were engaged in sleazy adulteries of their own.
And now, Republicans are exuberant about having elected a womanizing steroid abuser, a star from the Hollywood entertainment industry that they have always deplored, a Kennedy in-law who is pro-abortion and pro-gay, as the governor of California.
For many liberals, this just proves what they have always believed, that the conservatives' stance on moral issues is a sham, a pious front that hides their real agenda of grabbing power. They are all just a bunch of hypocrites. Not just the politicians but all religious people, in their view, pretend to be virtuous but are really as sinful as everybody else.
Other liberals are seeing conservative peccadilloes as part of a bigger picture, giving them, in the midst of their otherwise dismal prospects, a glimmer of hope. True, the Democrats have been in retreat, but maybe they can hope that on the moral and cultural issues-which for many on the left, as on the right, are the most important-the Republicans are coming over to their side. If the Democratic Party withers away, maybe cultural liberals can take over the Republican Party from within, so as to advance their "progressive" moral agenda after all.
The left-wing extremist Frank Rich, a columnist for The New York Times, sees in the post-Schwarzenegger GOP. the rebirth of the "Rat Pack" mentality of the 1960s. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and their hangers-on were hard-drinking, sexually promiscuous party animals, but in their classy tastes and big-money lifestyle they disliked what the hippie counterculture represented and embraced the person and the politics of Richard Nixon.
The conservatism of Barry Goldwater was essentially libertarian. Big government is an enemy of personal freedom. The heavy hand of government, with its taxes and bureaucratic regulations, should not interfere with the free economy. Nor, by extension, as Mr. Goldwater argued to his dying day, should it interfere with what people do in the bedroom or what they do to their own bodies.
Mr. Rich sees the emergence of a new Republican Rat Pack. The new Sinatra would be George W. Bush, with his frat boy camaraderie, insisting on doing everything "My Way." Mr. Schwarzenegger could be Peter Lawford, another immigrant married to a Kennedy. Jay Leno could be Joey Bishop, another comedian who hosted the Tonight Show.
So what is wrong with this picture? For one thing, liberal critics of the "religious right" tend to have little understanding of Christianity. A Frank Sinatra who had been born again would still have a checkered past and might still rub people the wrong way, but a sincere faith would make a genuine difference in his life and beliefs. And it would not negate his ability to sing. The secularists assume everyone is secretly as secular as they are, but to underestimate the force of religious convictions-even in those who do not always live up to them-is na•ve.
Furthermore, sin does not refute Christianity; rather, sin is evidence of Christianity. That even moralists fall and backslide testifies to the necessity of the gospel, that everyone-including Christians-stands in need of the forgiveness won by Christ.
But let us assume that the left-wing fantasy is fulfilled. Moral license has such cultural traction that Republicans abandon their pro-life, pro-family platform and embrace the values of the lifestyle left.
Mr. Goldwater's brand of conservatism, for all of its many virtues, carried only six states and won only 36 percent of the popular vote. But Mr. Nixon called upon another frequently ignored phenomenon of the 1960s, the moral majority-though he would later betray it-and coasted to victory. Ronald Reagan, though, combining Goldwater libertarianism and traditional American values, mobilized a new majority from ordinary, church-going folks, most of whom had always been Democrats, until their party was hijacked by the lifestyle left.
Republicans and Democrats should keep in mind that the moral majority-well aware that they are not necessarily all that moral, though they want to be, and that they are probably no longer in the majority-can tip just about any political balance. They can be a pack of rats themselves, who will leave a sinking ship, and can be lured, if the bait is right, to the politicians who want them.