Letter FromnWashingtonnby Samuel FrancisnTabula RasanIf George Bush accomplishes nothingnelse in his lifetime, he has at leastneamed a secure niche in future editionsnof Trivial Pursuit. Not since Martin VannBuren trounced the Whigs in 1836 hasnan incumbent Vice President beennelected to the White House. The lacklusternrecord of Andrew Jackson’s successornperhaps does not inspire optimismnabout the new administration,nbut, as most Americans who botherednto vote probably realized, it will beat thensocks off what Michael Dukakis wouldnhave offered.nAmong those voters who cast theirnballots for Mr. Bush were most Americannconservatives, who had never previouslynsupported him but who finallynsigned on with enthusiasm. Havingnwasted their ammunition in combat fornJack Kemp, Pat Robertson, RobertnDole, and Pierre DuPont, conservativesnnow came to imagine that Mr. Bush’snfusillades against Mr. Dukakis representedntheir own victory, and they gladlyngalloped off with him to pump theirnlast rounds into the Democratic corpse.nBut despite the Bush victory, the factnis that American conservatism is beginningnto resemble downtown Beirut in itsnpolitical and philosophical disintegration.nMr. Bush himself is nothing if notnan incarnation of the large yacht clubnthat has spawned Lodges and Rockefellers,nand for all the bravado at “morningnin America” and “we’re ready to lead,”nthe Taft-Goldwater-Reagan wing of thenGOP, along with the Old Right, thenNew Right, the neoconservatives, thenFirst, Second, and Third Generations,nthe libertarians, the evangelicals, thenSouthern, Gatholic, and Neo-MedievalnRights, and the many-splintered schoolnof Leo Strauss, all were dispatched tonthe showers.nNo doubt most of these groupletsnwill survive in the recesses of their ownnpolitical, philosophical, and tax-exemptncavems, and the nether portions of then38/CHRONICLESnCORRESPONDENCEnfederal government may provide ansource of relatively honest income fornmany. But none has much prospect ofnsetting the pace of the Bush administration.nMr. Bush’s main campaign advisersnand Gabinet officials are not knownnto be the sort of men who will snoozentheir afternoons away while the guardiansnof the damp brow and the purenheart march off with the government.nThe political decline of the Americannright is matched—perhaps evenncaused—by its philosophical decomposition,nand no text better illustrates thendisintegration of the conservative mindnin the last few years than ProfessornGharles R. Kesler’s introduction to anrecent anthology of conservative essays.nKeeping the Tablets: Modern AmericannConservative Thought, edited bynMr. Kesler and William F. Buckley Jr.,nis a revised version of a collectionnoriginally published by Mr. Buckley inn1970. As the new title suggests, thencurrent edition purports to pronouncenan orthodoxy to which the Americannrights should adhere.nBut the tablets Mr. Kesler offers arenetched in a strange tongue. While hisnanthology retains selections from suchnmajor conservative minds of the presentnand recent past as Russell Kirk,nJames Burnham, and WillmoorenKendall, Mr. Kesler seems to regardnmost of these as rather like museumnpieces, exhibited mainly for theirnquaintness. He makes it his business tonredefine American conservatism innsuch a way as to exclude from it whatnonce were considered its representativenvoices.nIt is Mr. Kesler’s contention that thenDeclaration of Independence, or rathernfive words from it, is the “centralnidea,” as Abraham Lincoln called it, ofnour political tradition. The success ofnliberalism, Mr. Kesler thinks, is due tonthe liberals’ misappropriation of thisnidea, with the result that “it has becomeneasy for modern liberals to seizenthe moral high ground on virtually anynissue.” Gonservatives may gain powernif, like the left, they “know the magicnwords needed to unlock our highestntraditions.” His counsel, then, is tonresist the left not by rejecting its incantationsnto equality but by sealing them.nnnand by relegating to the back shelvesnthose formulations of conservatism thatndo not center on equality or whichninterpret the Declaration and thenAmerican tradition differently.n”The American republic,” writesnMr. Kesler,nclaims to be based onnself-evident truths, first amongnthem that “all men are creatednequal.” Properly understoodn— meaning an equality ofnrights, not of virtue, wisdom, orntalents, an equality reflectingnman’s humanity, i.e., his placenin nature and the universe —nthis is self-evidentiy true. But itnhas not fared well with thenmajority of conservativenthinkers over the past fewndecades.nYet Mr. Kesler nowhere explains whynthe Declaration should be taken as thendefining document of the Americanntradition, let alone why the “creatednequal” formula should define the Declarationnitself Had he found space in hisn450-page collection for M.E. Bradford’snessay “The Heresy of Equality,”nhe would have afforded his readers annopportunity to learn how the Declarationnmay be read in other ways. (He andnMr. Buckley included two essays bynHarry Jaffa, Mr. Kesler’s mentor, butncould find no room for Mr. Bradford’snarticle, itself a reply to one of those bynMr. Jaffa.)nNor does Mr. Kesler explain in whatnway it is “self-evident” that all men arencreated equal. Were it so, why doesnanyone deny it, and why are there notnonly conflicting conservative understandingsnof what the slogan means butnalso different liberal and socialist interpretations?nIf the phrase means “equalitynof rights,” what are these rights? Isnthat the same as “equality of opportunity,”nand is it possible to have realnequality of rights or of opportunitynunless there is first equality of condition?nDoes not a serious commitmentnto “equality of rights” as the idealnaround which political, legal, social, andneconomic institutions are to be builtndrag us ineluctably toward a leveledn