I know I share the sentiments of many in the vapidity of the “audition” now in its thirteenth month that will ultimately decide who will succeed George W. Bush. Newt Gingrich had the right idea last year with his in depth sessions with Mario Cuomo to illustrate how a meaningful dialogue could produce real value for voters in a very short time frame, but no one was listening, so we are getting more of the same daily and nightly droning about who’s up, who’s down, who’s “going negative”, etc., etc., to the point that, no matter how hard one listens to the candidates themselves, it becomes very difficult to have matters of substance fight their way through. And I admit that I am still undecided on my support in the campaign, but I have given considerable thought to the criteria for selection. Even this has been no easy task for, as Charles Kesler of the Claremont Institute has noted, conservatives face a particular dilemma that they have not had to grapple with recently, which is to, in effect, reinvent conservatism for our times and then identify the most appealing messenger for the concept.
Why is this so? Well, primarily because the Reagan coalition that was fused among social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and Cold War hawks has been in part rendered obsolete by our victory in the Cold War and in part undermined by “compassionate” (read big government) conservatism as practiced by George W. Bush and the former Republican Congressional majority, as well as fractures in the conservative foreign policy establishment caused by the implementation of the Bush Doctrine. These divisions will not be healed overnight and the leadership for the transformation has not yet even begun to surface. And time is short because, as I have indicated previously, what we now see is what we get in November, and frankly I don’t see anyone on the scene who has thought long enough or deeply enough about the issues to lead this transformation. Remember, Ronald Reagan’s revolution began with the Goldwater campaign in 1964 and he had been formulating and honing his ideas for many years in dialogue with a number of policy advocates such as the Heritage Foundation, Arthur Laffer, et al.
Of one thing I am sure: this will not be a “post war election”, in the sense that there is a feel that the war and security issues will take a back seat to domestic issues, as David Brooks has suggested. He may be right that there has been a shift in values and there is little doubt that there is an attitude of “what can my country do for me?”, but one look at the recent crisis in Pakistan should convince even the most casual observer that we will still be a nation at war in a very dangerous world in January 2009, which means that my criteria number one for U. S. leadership in that world will be a person who will endorse the continuation, in whatever name is chosen, of a foreign policy very close to the Bush Doctrine.
The Mitchell Report might have been the last straw. I long ago abandoned professional football–haven’t watched a game live or on TV since the Houston Oilers fired Bum Phillips and traded Earl Campbell–and professional basketball put me to sleep long before that, in both cases more for the on and off field culture they helped promote and reward than the quality of the play. But major league baseball has always been my first love as a professional sport and I continued to have respect for its intricacies as the “thinking man’s game”, the strategic drama, the poetry of it all–”The Natural”, “Field of Dreams”, “Casey at the Bat”, etc.–and the great traditions of the game. True, it has over the past thirty years or so succumbed to many of the same corruptions as the NFL and NBA, but it had managed to maintain a certain nostalgic attraction for me that even George Steinbrenner couldn’t completely destroy. But the Mitchell Report on the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs may do it. I’m not naive. Intuitively, I knew that the drug problem was more widespread than had been reported publicly, but I guess I wanted to believe that substantially all players were above it, if not ethically, at least in terms of its destructive potential. I’ve just watched Mike Wallace interview Roger Clemens on “60 Minutes” and I would like to believe that he is being truthful in his denials of the reports of his usage of steriods, but it’s difficult to know what or who to believe, and that’s the problem for me–we have almost reached the point that to assign complete credibility to anyone in such cases where the incentives are so compelling one must choose to be totally cynical to avoid being guilty of extreme naivete.
Of one thing I am sure. Our society will not purge itself of this corrupting imagery for our children until we take a no tolerance attitude with those who are proven guilty and not only condemn these practices, but completely remove the financial incentives for the perpetrators by removing them from their profession and stripping them of their records and awards. I totally disagree with George Mitchell’s suggestion that past infractions not be prosecuted. In fact, if there are criminal referrals for drug use to be made, they should be made, and whether or not laws have been violated, major league baseball should deal harshly with those who violated the public trust by using these substances. That’s the only chance they have to get me back.
The holiday season provided some time to finish a couple of books I had been putting off, and I can recommend both very highly:
Our First Revolution, by Michael Barone. This is great narrative history covering the period leading to the English Glorious Revolution of 1688-89, complete with a detailed description of the events and intrigues of those years and the settlements that reverberate to this day in the law and structures of the Anglo-American system–”the intellectual pedigree of America’s political order”, as George Will has called it. When we think of revolutions, we think of the violence of the French, Russian, and even our American brand of upheaval, but this one was at least as transformational as any of those and was conducted with scarcely a shot being fired. To say that it was a primary inspiration for the American founders is an understatement; in fact, it is no overstatement to say that were it not for 1688 there would have been no 1776.
World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, by Norman Podhoretz. If you remain in denial about the threat represented by the forces with whom we are currently at war or find yourself drifting back to a September 10 mindset, this book is the perfect antidote. Podhoretz, the long time editor of Commentary magazine, writes in late 2006 and provides a reminder of how we got there over the past 25 years in addition to a detailed analysis of the points of view of the major players on all sides of the national debate that dominates our time. He provides broad historical context, explains why this war is as vital to America’s survival as the first three world wars, why winning it will require far more patience than required by “the greatest generation” of WWII, and why there is currently no serious alternative to the strategies prescribed by the Bush Doctrine. He could have been more edifying on a few points and I have read a couple of critical reviews that seem to have some merit, but he lays out the truth for all to see, and makes a very compelling case.