Wednesday, January 31, 2007
PSAYINGS.5Q.6. There's a lot of conventional wisdom swirling around out there about the 2008 presidential election, which we're already supposed to believe is underway. Personally, I think it's a false start and it won't be long till the contestants are ordered back into the gate to wait just a bit longer.
Why? Because none of the current jockeying for position means anything yet. It can't mean anything because presidential races are defined by the issues voters care most about -- or can be made to care most about -- in the election year. The MSM, the pundit class, and the blogosphere may think they know how key variables are going to look in 2008, but they don't. No one can say for sure how the economy, the Iraq War, the Islamic terror threat, the immigration situation, the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, or even the Bush presidency vs. the Democrat congress will look to voters a year from now. Therefore, much of the handicapping that's going on presently is worthless, especially the talk about who can or cannot win.
Republicans in particular should cool their jets for a bit. Even more than the Democrats they seem intent on outsmarting themselves by basing their allegiances on which of a bunch of dubious candidates they think can prevail in a general election. Ironically, they do this while lamenting the absence of a Ronald Reagan to lead and inspire them. I'm old enough to remember that the chief argument used against Ronald Reagan as a presidential candidate was that he had no chance of winning a national election; he was doomed to be another Goldwater. I thought that too. Right up to the moment when, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, the three networks took to the air on election night and announced an overwhelming victory for Reagan.
There's even more irony afoot. Conservatives can barely contain their outrage about the fact that the remaining Republicans in congress continue to betray party principles and refuse to speak or act like Republicans. Meanwhile, the very same conservatives are tying themselves in knots to explain why they feel obligated to support some particular candidate -- Giuliani, Romney, McCain -- with whom they disagree about numerous fundamental issues. Aren't they doing the same thing they're accusing their party leadership of doing? Yes. They are.
Let's forget about electability for a moment. Think about the candidate base in terms of conservative principles. McCain is twice a traitor -- an accomplice in the McCain-Feingold abomination and in helping the MSM portray the Bush administration as a gang of amoral torturers. Giuliani is a New York City Republican, meaning that he's not a conservative at all, but a kind of JFK Democrat; no matter how much squinting we do to forgive him because he's strong on national security, he's still pro-choice, pro gay rights, squishy on illegal aliens, and inevitably tilted toward the preeminence of city folk over country folk. Romney is a Massachusetts Republican who is suddenly claiming to be a social conservative, and it's painful to read all the rationalizations conservatives are concocting to make his johnny-come-lately conversions seem plausible. Brownback is squishy on the Iraq War. Jeb Bush looks as if he will refuse to run this time around, under any circumstances.
That leaves a only a couple of congressmen whose ability to function on a national stage is still a big question mark. And Newt Gingrich.
Ah yes. Newt. He runs through all the other gobbledy-gook conservatives write like a thread of wistful sorrow. If only he were electable... If only he didn't have so much personal and political baggage... If only he weren't too smart to connect with average Americans...
Then, when he speaks to a convocation of conservatives, the wistfulness becomes a yearning ache. He's so smart. He has real ideas about how to fix what's wrong. He reminds us of why we became conservatives in the first place. What a terrible shame that we can't have him instead of all those others.
Why can't we have him instead of all those others? Yes, he might lose, perhaps even badly. But that might well happen with anyone else, too, and if it does happen with anyone else, the definition of conservative principles will be further eroded and delegitimized. One thing we can be sure of is that a Gingrich candidacy would provide the best opportunity since Reagan to offer the American people a brilliantly clear statement of the difference between conservatism and "progressive" socialism. It would also generate significant new ideas around which young conservatives can rally and establish forward-looking policy positions. No one but Newt has the brains or the balls to take on the U.S. State Department -- that perpetual dagger in the heart of U.S. foreign policy -- and the sheer brokenness of so many huge agencies in the federal government. No one else can make the case in advance -- and memorably -- for why Americans should resist the Democrats' inevitable demand for a national health care system of socialist design.
Conservatives keep bemoaning the fact that the Republican party has lost its identity and betrayed its core beliefs in a vain attempt to compromise with an unscrupulous political foe. How can that identity ever be reestablished and core beliefs recovered if there is no one to articulate them, defend them, and actually win the debate against the opposition?
Here's what we can know about Newt for certain. He will pulverize any Democrat candidate in televised debates. He may not come across as more likeable, but he will certainly be perceived as brilliant, lightning quick on his feet, and in command of the facts. He will be amazingly effective in overturning the liberal mantra that conservatives are dumb, backward hicks with thick tongues and clicheed positions. He will make conservativism new and vital again. That's exactly what Goldwater and Reagan did.
Moreover, despite all my reservations about the vailidity of discussing electability this early on, I suggest to you that Newt is far less unelectable than he looks to conservative power brokers. Yeah, he's had a messy private life, with divorces and affairs. Ditto, though, for Giuliani. And McCain. It may be Clinton's real legacy that he's cleared the way for other bad boys to get a pass on this kind of stuff. It's also likely that Newt will be running against Hillary, whose private life is also spectacularly messy. And, yeah, Newt may also be notorious for having participated in the impeachment of Clinton while he was having an affair of his own, but does Hillary really want to make an issue of hypocrisy, and does she (or any Democrat) really want to dredge up the scandals of her husband's administration, which include her own close calls with indictment for obstruction and/or perjury?
A few other quick points. It's supposed to be bad that Newt is an honest-to-goodness intellectual. But after eight years of "Bush is so dumb he..." jokes, maybe Americans really are ready for a super-smart president. Also, he has a temper and an outrageous ego. Uh, need I remind you again that he's running against Hillary? He's a mean sonofabitch? Uh, Hillary?
And if Hillary is the nominee, we can be absolutely certain that the campaign will be the dirtiest in history. She will stop at nothing to win. Nothing. In that case, we will need a fighter who's tough enough to counterpunch and mean enough to go for the jugular himself. Mitt Romney anybody?
In short, Newt Gingrich's perceived liabilities may turn out to be a complete wash with those of his opponent. Too conservative? That shouldn't concern us. If the ideas are good, we should trust our convictions.
Trust our convictions. What an odd idea. Give it a try.