Monday, March 22, 2010
Republicans for President
We're loving the bad haircut and all the charts he's been lugging around.
THE RESISTANCE. How about it? A president who isn't a messiah but a citizen executive. The awful, the truly terrible irony, is that without Reagan there would have been no Obama. A president who is truly larger than life is a rare, rare thing. A man of far-seeing vision, personal charisma, and policies that proved to be right for the long-term health of the republic. The United States has had exactly three of these in 220 years: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan. There have been some who possessed two but not all three of these attributes. Jefferson lacked personal charisma, but it didn't matter as much in his day. Jackson lacked vision, as his intimates and duelling partners would have attested. FDR had vision and charisma, but his vision was wrong and became a festering wound in the heart of the nation. The same was true of FDR's elder cousin Theodore. Because it's not true that people who consider themselves smarter than the rest of us are. A vision of government as the father and mother of a child citizenry is more a function of ego than insight. And electing men who simply look good in suits and deliver affecting speeches can make us think we're connected to someone larger than life, but that's perhaps the worst folly of all.
But after Reagan, the Democrats wanted one of their own. The Reagan funeral -- all that love expressed by citizens of every color and class -- tipped them into desperation. The Republicans have Reagan, who won the Cold War and rescued America's economic and foreign policy primacy, and who do we have? Carter, the smallest, meanest, most uncharismatic leftover of the twentieth century. Clinton, the charismatic scumbag who at every turn traded vision for expediency and everything else for survival in office. To this day, Democrats rummage the gutters for some, any evidence that Ronald Reagan was ever mean, hypocritical, or consumed with blind ego and partisanship. Not finding such evidence, they paint him as an idiot, a figurehead, a photogenic performer. Even to the point of ascribing all his accomplishments in foreign policy to Mikhail Gorbachev and all his accomplishments in economic prosperity to, uh, sheer luck. And they have actually celebrated and joked about his tragic succumbing to Alzheimer's.
Which tells us a lot about the attributes they were looking for in their own version of Reagan. He would have to look good, sound good, and seem good in terms of his marriage and personal morals. It would be great if his national political career was precipitated by a single memorable speech. He should be iconic in some elementally American way. He should campaign in a perpetually positive, speak-no-evil sort of way, as if the very robustness of his own belief in people and America could somehow overcome mere policy differences with the opposition. "We can be better than all this partisan ugliness."
But you can never conjure up a Reagan just because you want one. Truth is, there's only ever been one Reagan. Even Washington and Lincoln didn't quite have what Reagan did. Lincoln had a high voice and suffered from chronic depression. Washington had no teeth, and he was nevertheless so vain it took a constitutional crisis before he could bring himself to wear spectacles in public. Yes, Lincoln was a more gifted writer than Reagan (but not by as much as is popularly believed) and Washington had a better biography (unless we're talking exemplary American biographies), but Reagan was really a 'perfect storm' of presidential attributes, which is why my Irish wife remains so scornful of him to this day -- noting that he was Irish, charming, and regardless of everything, a politician -- which to her means that there must, positively has to have been, something deeply dark and therefore forgivably Irish about him she can't find, no matter how hard she looks. Which makes him, in Irish logic, a fake of some sort who can't be forgiven for having been pretty much what he seemed to be. It actually makes her suspicious that Reagan took a bullet and didn't die while he joked his way through the crisis, because she knows that the celebrated "luck of the Irish" is all bad luck and all real Irish stories end badly.
Except in America. Where we're all presently grappling with -- given the current president's disavowal of it -- the concept of American exceptionalism.
Ah. Yes. Back to the Democrats' Reagan. So they found one and they elected him and a huge majority in congress and the senate, and how can you argue the luck of how the Dems acquired their filibuster-proof majority in the senate -- Arlen Specter turning tail at the tag end of his life and Al Franken chiselling his way past a meek Republican governor to the final stolen seat? How could this not be a sign of Reagan-like luck?
There's only one problem. Obama is not a Reagan. He's a guy who looks good in a suit and delivers a speech that inspires people who have never read speeches much. He's not even FDR or JFK. He's full of platitudes, not eloquence, and there's neither a TR nor a PT-109 in his background. His beautiful suits -- I'll stipulate the best ever -- are all empty.
A long way round, I suppose, to a point that's already been made here. Our next president isn't going to be charismatic, beautiful, beautifully dressed, or situationally eloquent. He'll be what most of the presidents we've gotten when we needed them were: ordinary Americans who know that's what they are. We don't need that extra dimension of "larger than life" right now. What we need is "real life."
The American presidency isn't about fatherhood or motherhood. It's about serving the voters, being a scrupulous steward of our future. Protecting and defending us as a nation. Guarding the budget and its bottom line. Letting us ordinary citizens provide all the pyrotechnics, prosperity, and potency of the American Dream.
Best ideal of an American president in the Obama age? A respectful clerk executing our agenda, with balls the size of Mount Rushmore and principles more granite than the Ten Commandments.
Additional candidates? Mike Pence. Gray but not fun.
I'm even thinking about this guy. So what if he doesn't understand the uncoolness of a spray-on tan. For my money, he's fought like a Trojan and spoken direct declarative sentences I haven't heard since Barry Goldwater -- or Ronald Reagan.
btw, we'll get back to you when what we really need is another Ronald Reagan. Or when we spot one.