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COLUMN RIGHT : Ask First If He Stands for Something : Wilson's appointment of Seymour has brought the ideological conflict to a head.

January 06, 1991|BRIAN O'LEARY BENNETT | Brian O'Leary Bennett is an Orange County writer and former chief of staff to Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove)

While Jan. 2 was a day of personal triumph for a hard-working, attentive, nice guy from Anaheim, it was also a day of disappointment for conservatives. Once more, opportunity and conviction lost out to moderation and management. Once again, activist conservatives are reminded in what little regard our new governor holds the dominant wing of his party.

Lost opportunity because Pete Wilson could have selected someone like Gaddi Vasquez or Dave Dreier to replace him in the Senate. To be sure, they have their shortcomings. But either of them could have bridged the widening gap between moderates and conservatives. Vasquez, in particular, carried with him a welcoming appeal to those outside our traditional constituencies. Instead, Wilson has provoked, or probably guaranteed, a full-scale intra-party civil war. Or, as Rep. William E. Dannemeyer correctly put it, "a fight for the soul of the Republican Party."

One need only attend a Republican state convention to witness the open hostility between these two wings as each battles for platform control and party offices. The ouster last month of moderates from leadership positions by the conservative majority of the state Republican congressional delegation is yet another example of a party already engaged in open warfare.

Conservatives are beginning to flex their muscle again, tired of the tossed bones, particularly those thrown in the post-Reagan era. It was the conservatives who persevered in the trenches for 16 years while the press and East Coast Establishment Republicans sat in their country clubs and called us mindless kooks bent on nuclear war and greedy free-marketeering. It was the conservatives in grass-roots think tanks around the country who developed bold new plans about how to govern. And through the leadership of Ronald Reagan, damned if that conservative philosophical rudder didn't guide this country through its longest peacetime economic boom, return our pride, prestige and military might and help usher in this era of freedom and international cooperation.

Make no mistake, it wasn't the Nixon philosophy, which gave us wage and price controls and Detente I and II, that accomplished this. Nor was it Gerald Ford's "Whip Inflation Now" platform and "Poland is a free nation" rallying cry that brought the Republican Party to ascendancy. How is it then that these nonconfrontational, managerial keepers of Republican establishmentarianism are back in the driver's seat once again?

Whether intentionally or not, Wilson has brought this ideological conflict to a head in the person of John Seymour. The state senator from Anaheim claims that he is a conservative and maintains his right to occasionally change his position. Few would deny him that right, sparingly exercised.

However, the Seymour's unconscionable, blatantly political, switch on the culturally conservative, fundamental issue of abortion threw into legitimate question his other political convictions. When you believe that life begins at conception, as he says he does, but then support the taking of life in exchange for some earthly political expedient, is it not fair to assume that you can change on absolutely anything else?

It's easy to be a conservative on fiscal issues, crime and the death penalty. That's pretty popular stuff these days. Will Seymour really be the stand-up conservative that he claims to be when the arm-twisting reaches its zenith, as members of Congress will tell you it did in unprecedented ways during tax increases and the budget?

We already know where he stands on abortion and homosexual rights. How about parental leave, funding for the National Endowment of the Arts, quotas, affirmative action, condoms for teen-agers, clean needles for junkies, fetal experimentation? On what other culturally conservative issue will that "compassionate conservative" cave in--a misguided compassion that rips at the moral fiber of this country?

The incredible thing is that these judgments have already been made. The electorate's verdict on the certitude of Sen. Seymour's convictions is in. State Sen. Marion Bergeson trounced him in Orange County (60% to 40%) and throughout the state (55% to 45%) with solid conservative support. Seymour wants to excuse away his defeat in the primary by his claim of lack of campaign funds to "get his message out." How does he figure? He raised more money than Bergeson. It wasn't the money. It was his message.

Standing alone, there is reason enough to again oppose Seymour. Viewed in the larger context of who will win the "soul of the Republican Party," conservatives must oppose him in a primary. Only then can we begin the climb back to governance, reverse the drift and restore our visionary pact with the voters.

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