Friday, May 04, 2007

Leadership, history and our next president

Consider this my attempt to provide some clarity on the coming presidential election, the candidates involved and what, in my opinion, are the real issues at stake.

As someone who's contrarian views frequently drive both die hard conservative `loyalists' and the Angry Left to apoplexy, as well as being something of a student of history, I hope my views may provide some badly needed perspective.

To begin with, let's look at where we are.

We stand at the pinnacle of a critical time for our Republic. Having emerged from World War II as the most powerful and richest nation in the world, we proceeded to almost willfully squander that advantage through a combination of misguided policies. And at the same time, we, as a nation, produced a generation with a number of members who's most evident qualities have been malignant narcissism, self-involvement and a desire for instant gratification.

We are now nearing the end of 16 years worth of leadership by two members of that generation who have a number of traits in common, though they tend to manifest them quite differently.

So now looking at where we've been, let's look at what we likely need.

The last two administrations have been incredibly divisive for America, and what's more, there are people who have made an `industry' out of keeping us divided.But the fact is that we can no longer afford it.

Our beloved country faces an existential challenge from Islamic fascism, and that is neither going to disappear nor be affected by any concessions or diplomacy we might embark on. It is a global assault, driven by fanaticism and backed not simply by a small group of murky,ill-defined criminals but by a group of nation-states that finance and promote it, and by a well organized and funded fifth column here that is larger and more pervasive than we imagine.

The next president's primary task will be to unite us, inspire us, and to make the hard decisions that must be made to lead us to victory and preserve our Republic and our freedom.

In many ways, what we need is another President Reagan, someone who can transcend the current malaise and take us back to first principles. With that in mind, let's examine the field thus far and see who's out there.

I dislike being partisan, but on the Democrat side there doesn't seem to be a candidate who even vaguely seems to grasp what's at stake here. Senator Clinton is probably the closest, which isn't saying much. Or, to put it another way, she's more of a man than any of the other candidates running as Democrats right now...which says something in itself.

She also has fatal drawbacks.

First, Senator Clinton has the baggage of her own party to drag around with her, and many of today's Democrats are not the sort of people to promote national unity. frankly, many of them are far too defeatist and isolationist to be depended on in wartime. As members of her party, a President Hillary would be forced to incorporate them and their policy positions in government..something which could end up being fatal.

Second, Senator Clinton is an incredibly polarizing figure, with a shrill and abrasive style and high negatives, and she would simply have problems in uniting and inspiring the country. And frankly, in order to even be nominated by the Democratic Party as it now stands, she would have to move far enough over to the Left so as to have little chance of uniting the country.

On the Republican side, there are problems of a different sort.

Given Bush's fumbling and mischaracterization of this war from the beginning and given the Bush presidency's basic nature, it's quite understandable to me why the term `Republican conservative' leaves a bad taste in many American's mouths nowadays. In truth, Bush has hardly governed like a conservative with the sole exception of tax cuts, but he has labeled himself as one from the beginning, and thus done incredible damage to that particular brand name.In this, he was aided by a number of Republican members of Congress, who basically stood by and watched the train go over the cliff.

Because of that, anyone who tries to label themselves as a `conservative' will have the uphill battle of convincing Americans that this time it's for real, and those who label themselves as `conservatives' had better realize it and figure out what to do about it.

As I've written before, Senator John McCain may realize what's at stake here, but thus far he's been unable or unwilling to articulate it, pretty much falling in with the Bush Administration's stance on the `war on terror' and going along with the fallacy we're merely at war with al-Qaeda and few Islamic terrorists.

That is a losing strategy in my opinion, both in terms of the war we're in and in terms of the electorate.

McCain also irritates conservatives because of his embrace of things like McCain-Feingold, and he has the baggage of age. If elected, he would be the oldest president in our history.

Ex-senator Fred Thompson (a non-candidate at this point) is a man being touted as a `conservative savior' by many people who's opinions I respect, like Peggy Noonan. He seems to cultivate a likeable persona, but there are a number of things in his background that may provide food for thought, among them his career as a professional lobbyist and a registered foreign agent, his opposition to tort reform and his strong support for McCain Feingold.

While I'm certain Senator Thompson has done nothing illegal, I think the very terms `lobbyist' and `registered foreign agent' are all the electorate will have to hear, in the climate created by the Abramoff scandal and similar events. I simply don't see him as the president we need right now.

Mitt Romney has a number of positions I agree with, but he is a basically a Northeastern governor who accomplished very little in Blue state Massachusetts..and he wouldn't even be able to carry his home state ( or Michigan) in an election. He and others are in the race trying to mine the vein of being `social conservatives' in an election that should not and likely will not turn on those issues. Again, I remind people of the damage that's been done to that brand name by the present occupant of the White House.

Then of course, we come to the ex-mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani.

Mayor Giuliani has a number of drawbacks, as well as a number of virtues, but it may very well be that out of the field at the moment he is best suited to be our next president.

Giuliani's background is one of accomplishment in the face of long odds, starting with his successful stint as a US attorney in putting the mafia in jail and continuing with his unlikely revival of a dysfunctional city. He thus has more administrative experience - and successful experience under fire at that - than anyone else running in either party. What's more, while being mayor of New York he was able to get much of his agenda into law by working with politicians from the other side of the aisles and persuading them to see things his way.

I think, as a country, we badly need someone with that kind ability to unify us as a nation.

The ex-mayor is frequently demonized for his stance on abortion, gay rights and gun control by various conservative `gate keepers' - columnists, commentators and publications. The National Review even went so far as to run a hit piece on the mayor with that famous photograph of him in drag on the cover.

What's surprising to many of these people is that Mayor Giuliani remains the front runner - and that he's receiving solid support from Evangelical Christians and other groups who would ordinarily be thought of as viscerally opposed to him.

The answer to that paradox is, perhaps a key to why Giuliani might be exactly the president we need at this juncture.

For starters, Giuliani is an inspiring speaker, with, at his best a unique ability to communicate and connect with people. That's not surprising since he's been doing it professionally since he got out of the mayor's office.

He's also the only candidate who's experienced the sight sounds and smell - and I use those terms advisedly - of Islamic terrorism first hand, and the only one I'm aware of who has ever turned down the Saudis' attempt to buy influence or had somebody like Yasir Arafat thrown out of a public auditorium.

Aside from Duncan Hunter, Giuliani is also the only candidate to my knowledge who, judging by his remarks, appears to viscerally understand the global nature of the war we're in, and that it's not merely a war against a few `terrorists'.

His record, after the failures of the Bush Administration epitomizes what I think the real issue of this campaign is likely to be....competence, the simple ability to get things done that need to be done, and to be accountable for doing them successfully.He also appears to have a relentless nature when it comes to getting things done that must be hell to be around, but seems to work for him.

Mayor Giuliani has a number of drawbacks - his rather tumultuous private life, occasional glitches in communication, bouts of temper and positions on some issues I don't quite agree with - but I also recognize that his more moderate positions on some of the social issues could be key in uniting the country to do what needs to be done to preserve our Republic.

What's more, with the right running mate ( say, Duncan Hunter) it could be key to getting him elected and avoiding a Clinton/Obama presidency, which I think would be a disaster. Giuliani is the only person currently running as a Republican with any chance of carrying New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

None of this should be construed as an endorsement, those I'm certain it feels that way. It's a year and a half until the election, and much may happen..including the late entrance of other candidates into the race,

We must remember that this will likely be a watershed presidency at a time of grave crisis and that we must keep the main issues in mind - uniting and inspiring the country, leading us to victory and the preservation of our Republic.