The magazine I was anticipating the most before Election Day was the endorsement issue of The American Conservative. The unorthodox "paleo-conservative" journal entertains a fairly wide range of opinion in its pages and isn't out to enforce a particular party line. In 2004, it published four separate endorsements, representing four clashing editorial viewpoints: one apiece for Bush, Kerry, Nader and the Constitution party candidate. This year, the editors threw it open and solicited opinions from eighteen different writers, including the lead editorial staff. Instead of one big endorsement, we get the least scientific of polls with the least representative of samples, but not with the least interesting result. Here's the final score.
1. Barack Obama (5 votes). The Democrat's supporters include repentant neocon Francis Fukuyama, Reagan biographer John Patrick Diggins, and the magazine's editor-at-large, Scott McConnell. As you might expect, none of these is an especially enthusiastic endorsement, Obama mostly appealing to them as the least of evils. Diggins writes that "in foreign affairs, the choice between Senator McCain and Obama is the choice between the frying pan and the fire," but "I prefer the professor to the warrior." Fukuyama will vote for Obama because "it would be a travesty to reward the Republicans for failure on such a grand scale" as the Bush administration has achieved. McConnell credits Obama with a "disciplined and intelligent" campaign, noting that "Circumstance and ambition have pushed him to the center." For him, Obama is the only way to stop the neocons from consolidating their power and starting another war. The most enthusiastic Obama booster is Robert A. Pape, a terrorism expert who cites the Democrat's "clear-eyed judgment" on Iraq and his commitment to "approaching global threats with global solutions, encouraging multilateralism and dialogue where possible." Diggins and Fukuyama also cite Gov. Palin as a reason not to vote for McCain.
2. Not Voting (4 votes). Some paleos cannot swallow a "liberal" no matter how bad they think the Republicans have become. They're to be credited for rejecting the Bipolarchy logic of the "next-worst" choice, but the four abstainers have in common a surprising disregard for independent candidates. Self-styled "crunchy con" Rod Dreher (they're pro-environment and in retreat from corporate consumerism) can't take Obama because he's "a pro-abortion zealot and wrong on all the issues that matter to social conservatives," but he won't endorse McCain because "As both a conservative and a Republican, I confess that we deserve to lose this year." Llewellyn H. "Lew" Rockwell Jr. argues that "Nonparticipation sends a message that we no longer believe in the racket [the politicians] have cooked up for us, and we want no part of it." He fancies that by somehow denying politicians the mandate they'll claim anyway, "It makes them, just on the margin, a bit more fearful that they are ruling us without our consent." But if they haven't felt that way throughout the modern era of low turnout, what makes this libertarian think they'll start now that he's not voting? Gerald J. Russello rejects the idea that voting is a civic duty. "If you believe that none of the candidates presents an attractive option, why vote at all?" he asks. He'd be more persuasive if, like Declan McCullagh, he acknowledged and criticized at least one independent. McCullagh reflects that "the Libertarians could have been fun this year," but he's one who believes they sold out in nominating Bob Barr, "who has spent his entire adult life agitating against small-L libertarian traditions."
3. John McCain (3 votes). The Republican's most prominent supporter is executive editor Kara Hopkins, for whom McCain, not Obama, is the least of evils. She quotes a "better writer" unknown to me to compare watching McCain to "smoking an unlit cigar, walking a dead dog, swimming in an empty pool, or listening to the radio when it is off." I googled all the relevant terms and didn't find the source for this. In any event, while McCain is that bad, Obama is "the Senate's most leftist member," and electing him alongside a Democratic Congress is to "invite radical mischief." Hopkins would rather have gridlock. Meanwhile, making up for William F. Buckley's son endorsing Obama elsewhere, the late publisher's brother Reid intends to vote for McCain while expecting the Democrat to win. For him, Obama's "doctrinaire Democratic left-wing socialism [is] too depressing for words." Similarly, Peter Wood of the National Association of Scholars envisions a "vast institutionalization of the radical Left" if Obama wins, and states bluntly that "McCain's attractions for me lie almost entirely in his being the only viable alternative to Obama." The best he can say for the Arizonan is that "he does genuinely love America," a quality "utterly absent from Obama." The common quality of these three writers seems to be that they've had the radios on too long.
4. Bob Barr (2.5 votes). The half-vote comes from a Baldwin supporter who recommends Barr where Baldwin isn't on the ballot. The others are Leonard Liggio, who hopes Barr will restore the gold standard, and John Schwenkler, who regards Barr as "the consistently conservative option" and "a striking contrast to the inability of the major-party candidates ever to talk about liberty."
5. Chuck Baldwin (1.5 votes). The Constitution Party candidate gets props from anti-immigration webmaster Peter Brimelow, who sees Baldwin as the best anti-immigration candidate. He's also endorsed by Joseph Sobran, who describes him as "a godly, reasonable, wise and intelligent man" who "knows what the Tenth Amendment means" and "knows what the Holy Scriptures mean when they speak of a woman being 'with child.'" You can guess what issue matters most with Sobran.
6. Write-Ins. The magazine's movie critic Steve Sailer wants to make a statement by voting for Ward Connerly, the black anti-affirmative action activist, while senior editor Daniel McCarthy, unable to give up the dreams of winter and spring, will write in Ron Paul's name.
There you have it. These are conservatives outside of the "movement." As such they may or may not represent the majority of people who call themselves "conservatives." Do such people really think for themselves, or do they let the radio or Fox News do the thinking for them. If the former, and if their thinking goes in the directions suggested here, tomorrow's outcome may not be as close as it looks.