William Krystol looks at the coming race and the general yearning from both sides for a hero re-incarnate.
“The past is never dead; it’s not even past.” —Gavin Stevens, in William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun
For major political parties, which outlive their individual leaders and partisans, the past is never dead. It’s not even past. That’s especially evident when those parties look to the future. As Republicans and Democrats focus on November 2008, it’s clear each of them yearns to nominate a second coming of its beau ideal, the figure it has most admired in recent decades. For Republicans, that’s Ronald Reagan. For Democrats, it’s Robert Kennedy.
Reagan is the more obvious case. In the pantheon of modern Republican heroes, he stands alone. The G.O.P. has produced seven Presidents in the past 70 years. But I’d bet that in the stump speeches of today’s G.O.P. contenders, Reagan is cited, invoked and appealed to more than the other six combined. As he should be. As President (so Republicans tell it), he got the economy going again, restored American confidence and won the cold war. As a Republican, he both sharpened the party’s message and broadened its appeal. He won two landslide elections and then — a unique achievement in the past hundred years — was sufficiently popular at the end of his term that his Vice President was elected to succeed him.
I admit that I am one of those yearning for a hero. Yearning for a stand up guy that unites and stands up for what is right. Someone with a good moral compass and a SPINE. I look at Krytol’s examples and hope that those are truly each sides goal. We would do well with a new JFK/RFK and Reagan incarnate. It’s what this country needs now.
We need some unity and some healing, something that most of the candidates (in my opinion especially on the left) lack. The “push back” has been more divisive thank unifying. We are weaker now, not because of our military actions but in spite of them. The partisan power play is sickening. So let’s look at our options. And boy do we have some good ones.
On the GOP side we have Giuliani, a unifier for sure, but a divorcee, with a troubled son. Not exactly a socially conservative poster child. The only candidate that has actually had to lead anything, and we know how he does in a crisis. Socially moderate, maybe too moderate to get the GOP nod.
Mitt Romney, who will do well in conservative circles, may be too conservative to either unify, or win.
Gingrich has a good name from a good era, but not exactly known for reaching across the aisle. He has a backbone and may be closer to actually being Reaganesqe than anyone else, but I think his electability is shoddy at best.
And then there is Fred Thompson. He’s popular and threatening to the establishment. He hasn’t even declared and he’s already being assassinated from the “religious right” for his personal habits with James Dobson doubting his Christianity. In reference to him I have heard the newest of terms “CHINO” (Christian in Name Only) being used. I don’t think it will catch on though, as few of us pick our president solely by his religious affiliation. His preference in women may hurt him a bit, but he is popular star of big and small screens, and as many have said in private “it didn’t turn out so bad last time we elected and actor to office.” Highly Electable (for now).
What of the Democrats… Who has the qualities of the Kennedys?
Hillary Clinton? NO, Most Americans find her “Scarey”.
Barack Hussein Obama? Maybe. He has the charisma of RFK, and on the surface he seems OK. He’s young looking and popular, and would make history just by being elected. He hates Hillary as much as the rest of us, and if he’s able to keep his terror affiliations under wraps long enough, he has a good shot. People may just follow him for a while, but I am not sure it would last two terms.
So who else is running, does anyone even know. The food fight on the Democratic side has been mainly between those two, and the GOP has a long line of hopefuls. Do any of them live up to our party’s idols? I am afraid not. Thompson Comes close, but few people know anything about him, and Gingrich has the model right, but probably not the momentum. Obama has the charisma, but not much else, and just about everyone else with a brain gags at the prospect of Billary in office.
So we are left, still yearning; waiting for a hero. In the mean time, while I wait, I’m going to live my life. I will ask not what my country can do for me, but ask what I can do for my country 1. I will be an example to my kid, try to be her hero. I will help a neighbor. I will give to and volunteer for a charity, and listen to my own moral compass. Then hopefully one day I will not hear the most dreaded of phrases “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help”2.
1–And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. Inaugural Address by John F. Kennedy – January 20th 1961
2–It was Ronald Reagan who famously said that the most terrifying words in the English language are: “I’m from the government and I am here to help.”