Voter debate over ‘true conservatism’ ultimately pointless

A critical drumbeat that Arizona Sen. John McCain isn’t “conservative” enough persists into a second week after Super Tuesday gave him a dominating lead for the Republican nomination for president.

McCain is widely viewed as the presumption nominee with a commanding total of party convention delegates.

But concerns about McCain’s true commitment to conservative issues among many rank-and-file Republicans helped former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to win Saturday’s caucuses in Kansas and Louisiana, and to almost catch McCain in Washington state, as well.

Those concerns prompted President Bush to defend McCain’s record.

And the senator’s campaign is rolling out a series of high-profile endorsements, as happened Monday with Gary Bauer, the former head of the Family Research Council.

We don’t begrudge any voter or activist who doesn’t accept McCain has locked up the nomination and wants to consider Huckabee or Rep. Ron Paul as the remaining alternatives.

But this debate about whether McCain is a “true conservative” quickly has become meaningless and distracting from what has been a constructive discussion about who should be elected as our next president.

Elections aren’t about picking the perfect leader or representative.

No candidate is an ideal reflection of any single voter’s every wish and desire.

Republicans don’t get to choose between McCain and GOP heroes from the past such as Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater.

They can’t select from a list of possible contenders who decided not to enter the race, such as Newt Gingrich.

Voters have to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates on the ballot before them.

More importantly, voters must contrast the candidates and decide which one is most likely to do the best job for the next four years.

Looking for the true “conservative” or “liberal” becomes a crutch for voters and commentators to avoid the messy reality that politics usually requires compromise in order to accomplish anything.

McCain, Huckabee and Paul, along with Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, all deserve to be judged on their own merits and against one another, not against a mythical ideology that appears nowhere on the ballot.