Vice President Nelson Rockefeller recently made a foray into the Deep South prospecting for fri·ends who might come in handy dur ing the campaign of 1976. Nelson Rockefeller is a good example of a Number Two who is still trying harder, and he knew exactly the right sales talk to appeal to his conservative audience. He said “Hi, y’all,” he was all smiles, and he waxed eloquent about his overpowering desire to cut out government waste, unbalanced budgets, and welfare cheating.
The friendly reception Rockefeller received is a good example of why conservatives are left waiting at the gate when political plums are passed out. Just as the favors of some women can be won by flattery and promises while smarter women hold out for a ring and marriage, so also some blocs of voters are pacified and pigeon holed by rhetoric that feeds their prejudices, while others hold out for tangible achievements. Conservatives are usually part of the former group, rather than the latter. They have a dismal record of being bought with words while the liberals walk off with the legislation and the appointments.
Politicians from both parties intuitively sense this weakness of conservatives. The closer we get to any election, the more candidates escalate their conservatism. By the end of 1975, Nelson Rockefeller and Gerald Ford will be outdoing each other to see which one can sound more like Barry Goldwater or George Wallace.
President Ford is already barnstorming around the country, preaching the conservative doctrines of fiscal prudence, military preparedness, and an end to federal intrusion in the affairs of corporations and individuals. All that sound and fury will signify nothing at all; once the election is past, the liberals will cash in on the rewards.
Many conservatives today are completely fooled by Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger’s big talk designed to fabricate the illusion that he is the hardliner on defense in the present administration The facts belie the words. Schlesinger’s policies and actions are in no way different from his boss’s, Henry Kissinger’s, and the press recently uncovered the fact that Schlesinger is the author of a secret memorandum advising the President to take $5 billion out of strategic weapons.
During Rockefeller’s trip through the South, Governor James Edwards of South Carolina made the most refreshingly realistic remark any conservative has uttered this year. He said: “I judge a man by his track record.”
Now that is the way politicians ought to be judged. Everyone knows that, when professional football teams go recruiting for new players, they never make their selections on the basis of big talk. They look at their records: yardage gained, passes completed, tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and 40-yard speed.
If the voters would start putting the “track-record test” to politicians, we might get better performance instead of just phony promises.