Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The Road Ahead: A Third Man Who Can Lead

 

Last summer, I posted on BigGovernment.com a series of pieces on executive temperament. I began with Barack Obama who had demonstrated by fecklessness on a grand scale that he lacked the requisite instincts. Then, I went on to examine a series of Republican governors – Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, and Mitch Daniels – who had demonstrated that they really understood what it means to say, “The buck stops here.” Finally, I posted a piece arguing that executive temperament is not enough – that principles matter. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a man of executive temperament, and he exhibited all of the right instincts – in pursuit of ends inconsistent with everything that is good about this country. My aim in this exercise, as I explained in a Ricochet post back in February was to lay the foundations for a later judgment of Republican presidential contenders, and it was my suggestion that we concentrate our attention on women and men with executive experience. Very rarely, I suggested, do United States Senators and the like make good Presidents. Their on-the-job experience teaches them the art of posturing and dodging anything that might displease their constituents, not the art of prudently making tough decisions and taking responsibility for the consequences.

The current President, as I argued in detail in the piece linked above, perfectly exemplifies what it means to lack executive temperament. He is a man who is most happy when he can vote present. He outsourced the framing of major legislation to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and the like, and we got bills thousands of pages in length that no one voting on them understood. With regard to Iran, Afghanistan, and Libyan, he dithered and dithered and resorted to half-measures, and in each case we find ourselves mired in a mess. And he is still whining that the state of today’s economy is the responsibility of George W. Bush. Can you imagine Jindal, Christie, Daniels, or Pawlenty leaving matters of this sort to Congress and always looking for an easy out? Can you imagine Haley Barbour, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Nikki Haley, or John Kasich doing the like? I can’t. Their instinct is to take charge, and they relish the opportunity.

Of course, there have been exceptions to the rule I spelled out above regarding executive experience. The closest Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Nixon got to executive responsibility before becoming President was being Vice-President. Like FDR, both can be criticized on grounds of principle, but neither was ineffective as President. Both were, in fact, remarkably resolute.

Abraham Lincoln is an even more extreme case. He served one term in the House of Representatives. Then, a decade later, he ran for the Senate in Illinois and was not elected. No President has ever faced a greater ordeal than the one he faced. None was more willing to take responsibility and do what needed doing. He is the exception that demonstrates that no maxim of prudence can ever be hard and fast.

I fortify myself with the examples Johnson, Nixon, and, above all else, Lincoln in mind when I suggest that Republicans in search of standard-bearer have on their hands, if they are willing to acknowledge it, a third figure genuinely worthy of serious consideration: Paul Ryan, Chairman of the Budget Committee in the United States House of Representatives.

Paul-Ryan.jpgPaul Ryan is a young man – forty-one years in age. He attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and did a B. A. in economics and political science. After working in various congressional offices and writing speeches for Bill Bennett and Jack Kemp, he was elected to Congress from Wisconsin in 1998. He has never held executive office, served as a general, or led a corporation – which ought to give one pause. But he has done something else strongly suggesting (but not proving) executive capacity, and in this particular he reminds me of Lincoln.

Lincoln was propelled from obscurity to fame by the Lincoln-Douglas debates. In running for the Senate in Illinois in 1858 – in a situation in which victory would accrue to the candidate whose party won the state house and senate – Lincoln conducted himself in the manner of an executive, and his party won a majority of the votes cast in the pertinent races but failed to gain a majority of seats in the two houses because of gerrymandering. In his debates with a renowned sitting Senator likely to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 1860, Lincoln took firm, principled stands, and he articulated with great eloquence the case for his views. In the process, he forced Douglas to clarify his own views on the question of slavery in the territories in such a fashion as to make him unacceptable to the hardliners increasingly dominant in the South. The debates were printed in the press and reissued in pamphlet form thereafter. By bearding the little giant, Lincoln made of himself a national figure.

Ryan has done something similar. From his perch as Chairman of the Budget Committee in the House of Representatives, he has laid out a budget that serves as a challenge to the administrative state and that promises to move us back in the direction of fiscal sobriety. He has done this; he has repeatedly confronted the President in debates less formal and less dramatic than the Lincoln-Douglas debates but no less decisive in shaping public opinion, and he has won. For more than a year, he has been our standard-bearer, and it is his firmness and resolve in articulating what it in practice means to sustain a limited government that has thus far carried the day. Moreover, in shaping his proposed budget, he has managed in a statesmanlike fashion to get his fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives on board. He has not dodged responsibility; he has seized it. He is the man of the hour.

Let me add that Ryan, who is a Catholic, is firmly anti-abortion. Moreover, he has articulated in clear terms why social conservatives should be libertarian in their economics and why libertarians should be socially conservative – for he understands the connection between the welfare state, which rewards and thrives on dependency, and the breakdown of the traditional family, and he recognizes the manner in which each fosters the other. Ryan has also shown that he understands the dangers that might well arise should we hollow out our military forces by imprudently cutting the defense budget. Prior to Governor Mitch Daniels’ announcement that he was going to sign the bill passed by the Indiana legislature defunding Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers and restricting the provision of abortion services, I was inclined to make a full-throated case for Ryan. If Daniels does not run or if he fails to articulate in an impressive fashion his strategic vision with regard to American foreign policy, that is, I suspect, where I will come down. I would prefer, however, to have before me at least two excellent choices.

Paul Ryan is reluctant to enter the race. He is right to be reluctant. Congressmen rarely stand a chance; most legislators are temperamentally unsuited to executive responsibility; and Ryan has a young family. Political campaigns on the scale required can wreak havoc on family life. I nonetheless think it incumbent on Ryan to enter the race. He owes it to the country. The arguments that he is inclined to make need to be made in an eloquent and forthright fashion, and that he will do. Dark, handsome, well-informed, and seasoned in the struggles that beset Washington, DC, he would bring keen intelligence, political prudence, and the vigor of youth to a race in need of all three. We already know that, in a debate with President Obama, Ryan will win.

Ron-Paul.jpgAll of this having been said, there is one matter that has thus far been neglected and that needs attention. I am not an admirer of Ron Paul. I believe that his stance with regard to American foreign policy is utopian and dangerous. If left to its own devices, the larger world will tend towards anarchy. Throughout human history, in the absence of hegemony, piracy is the norm. Spontaneous disorder is the dominant propensity, not spontaneous order.

There is, however, one matter that Congressman Paul has focused on that others have ignored in which he is right or more nearly right than anyone else. I have in mind the Federal Reserve Board. This body was instituted in 1913 by Woodrow Wilson. It was the first attempt on the part of the federal government to introduce the principle of “rational administration” into government. Its purpose was to prevent panics and recessions, and it has tended to make them worse. By keeping interest rates artificially low in the 1920s, it sparked the boom that preceded the crash of 1929. By keeping interest rates artificially high in the aftermath, it turned a severe recession into a depression that lasted until 1941. Under Alan Greenspan in the 1990s and under Greenspan and Ben Bernanke in the early years of the current century, it kept interest rates artificially low, and it thereby laid the foundation for the crash of 2008 and the current recession. Right now, in a desperate attempt to bring unemployment down, it is keeping interest rates artificially low in such a manner as to cause inflation. If you have any doubts as to what is happening, ask anyone who shops for food. Those on tight budgets will tell you that the situation grows increasingly grim.

We need a dependable currency that maintains its value, and I have come to doubt whether it will ever be possible for us to have one if we do not go back on the gold standard. Economic wizards can stand up to anything but temptation. Offer them the prospect of playing God and of manipulating the markets, and they will persuade themselves that they have an expertise that no individual or small group of individuals can attain. It is time that we eschewed central planning in every form. It is good that Ron Paul is in the race. His presence, his persistence in arguing his case, and the fact that we are suffering stagflation may force Governors Pawlenty and Daniels and Congressman Ryan to think carefully about a question that demands greater attention than any of them appear to have given it.

Let me end by repeating what I have argued here, here, and here: that I think that we may be able to win in November, 2012 by a landslide hitherto hardly imaginable. Barack Obama is the Democratic answer to Herbert Hoover. By foolish policies, he has taken a financial panic and turned it into a severe recession that threatens to go on and on, and step by step, the public is awakening to the fact.

The polls show three things – growing discontent with the Obama administration, especially in the battleground states; general agreement with the Republican claim that we must cut back the federal budget and thereby put our fiscal house in order; and relative ignorance with regard to the most promising of the potential Republican presidential candidates. I doubt very much whether the trends evident with regard to the comparative popularity of the policies pursued by the Democrats and proposed by the Republicans will change. I am confident that the polling data with regard to the Republican presidential candidates means nothing. If Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee poll well now, it is only because the general public has not yet learned about Governors Pawlenty and Daniels and has not yet considered the possibility that Paul Ryan might run. The debates will change everything.

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  1. Israel P. Inactive

    Nicely laid out.

    • #1
    • May 2, 2011, at 2:33 AM PDT
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  2. Profile Photo Member

    A man who means what he says! No Squish, No Lip Service!

    Thank you Dr. Rahe

    Now the hard part, applying what we know to be true!

    • #2
    • May 2, 2011, at 2:43 AM PDT
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  3. Daniel Sattelberger Inactive

    Dr. Rahe, in the Bobby Jindal article you talked about the fact that the four presidents who had no executive experience fared badly. But isn’t it true Abe Lincoln had no executive experience? After all, all he served was 1 term as a U.S. Representative.

    • #3
    • May 2, 2011, at 3:09 AM PDT
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  4. Geoff Hiler Inactive

    Hear, here! The only question I have for you, Dr. Rahe, is why I have not heard you on the Ricochet podcasts? Perhaps I’ve missed those episodes, and if that is the case I’ll be scouring itunes very soon.

    I haven’t heard a more concise explanation/argument…period!

    Peter, James, Rob…have you read this?

    • #4
    • May 2, 2011, at 3:14 AM PDT
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  5. Israel P. Inactive

    Come to think of it, we may have the executive experience bit part backwards.

    We we speak of excutive experience, we say we want someone to run the country who has run large organizations before.

    Perhaps we should be asking if a person has always preferred non-executive positions, perhaps it is because he is not suited for an executive role. That, after all, is what the Obama story has shown us. Seems to me that if Ryan decides to run, he should be asked why he has never chosen an executive challenge before.

    • #5
    • May 2, 2011, at 3:16 AM PDT
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  6. John Walker Contributor

    Hey, it’s still the week-end, so may I indulge in a little levity based upon the illustrations in this post?

    By the wrinkles in his brow,

    Doctor Paul’s the younger now.

    (I don’t know how to do verse without double spacing between the lines given the posting engine here.)

    Here’s a puzzle I posted back in 2006 about outsiders as candidates for U.S. president. But then we may be in black swan times when it comes to elections. Certainly that obtained in 1860.

    • #6
    • May 2, 2011, at 3:27 AM PDT
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  7. Brian Member

    I think Paul Ryan would be better served by backing Mitch Daniels as they seem to have similar overall views and acumen for fiscal matters. Ryan could be in the running to be in Mitch’s white house or finish the job he has started in Congress.

    • #7
    • May 2, 2011, at 3:44 AM PDT
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  8. Daniel Sattelberger Inactive
    Brian Sharkey: I think Paul Ryan would be better served by backing Mitch Daniels as they seem to have similar overall views and acumen for fiscal matters. Ryan could be in the running to be in Mitch’s white house or finish the job he has started in Congress. · May 1 at 3:44pm

    A Daniels/Ryan ticket would crush all opposition, especially Obama/Biden, in the debates.

    • #8
    • May 2, 2011, at 3:54 AM PDT
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  9. Hang On Member
    Hang On Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Not sure what Ryan would add to the race that Daniels does not. It seems more likely they would be competing for each other’s supporters. That is not to say I would not vote for either one of them, just no reason for splitting the vote that way. A Daniels-Ryan ticket would be great.

    • #9
    • May 2, 2011, at 4:08 AM PDT
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  10. Preserved Killick Member
    Preserved Killick Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Well, I did back the correct horse – and I do agree, Professor. And, frankly, I am terribly afraid of what the race would do to this fine man.

    A couple of weeks ago we brought our 13 year old daughter to Washington DC for spring break – she was very interested to see the Capitol, the monuments and the museums. We stopped by our Congressman’s office, Col. Chris Gibson (Col Gibson and I graduated from Siena College together, tho I am sure he does not remember me). Unfortunately the Congressman was back home in the district, but I did get to talk with a couple of his bright young staffers. The conversation came to the Ryan budget proposal, and I offered that the response from the left side of the aisle and from the media was sure to be hugely damaging. And this young staffer said, “Why should we be afraid of that? It’s what we came here for. To fight!”

    • #10
    • May 2, 2011, at 4:23 AM PDT
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  11. Mendel Member
    Mendel Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’m sold.

    But now comes the hard part: how to convince Ryan to run? Given that so many Americans still have little idea who the man is, he would need to start campaigning, or at least start making a bigger profile for himself, sometime toward the end of this year. That doesn’t leave much time for him to fight for his now-synonymous budget plan, which is the major pillar of any hypothetical Ryan presidential campaign. If conservatives want him to run, I think pressure needs to be applied now not to Ryan, but to other congressional Republicans to start pushing his policies more aggressively, to get his name and message out for him.

    And Paul Ryan as VP would be a scandalous waste of talent: he is an obvious leader and point man, and needs to be at the top of whichever body he serves in.

    • #11
    • May 2, 2011, at 4:31 AM PDT
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  12. David Williamson Inactive

    Wow – the mystery candidate is my favorite, also!

    There do seem to be moves afoot to draft Paul Ryan – it has been suggested that he could enter the race late, to minimize the effect on his family, and that he could work from home after the election… his family could even make use of the swing set, picnic table and vegetable garden in the yard.

    Vice-President? – easy – John Bolton. Very unlikely he will be up against Biden in the debate, but he will make mincemeat of whoever Obama chooses.

    And the Presidential debates would be so one-sided it would be hilarious.

    A fitting end to Mr Obama’s career – he can move on to something more uplifting, like World President (a strictly honorary position, like The Queen).

    • #12
    • May 2, 2011, at 5:02 AM PDT
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  13. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Excellent read, Professor. And I’m game.

    In Our current climate, I think all a Republican has to do to win is talk tough, direct, and stay on offense.

    After Our experience with this administration, The Citizens yearn for it.

    • #13
    • May 2, 2011, at 5:21 AM PDT
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  14. Profile Photo Member

    I was really hoping you might get all libertarian on us and go with Gary Johnson. His record in New Mexico was stellar.

    And talk about energy in the executive – the guy is a triathelete who has summited Mt. Everest.

    Ah, well. It least it wasn’t Jeb Bush.

    • #14
    • May 2, 2011, at 5:29 AM PDT
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  15. KC Mulville Inactive

    The mystery revealed! And a nice revelation it was. Ryan is excellent.

    I confess, I’m still wary of giving the most executive position in the world to someone with no executive experience. It’s hard for me to abandon that premise.

    I’m going to have to work on that one.

    • #15
    • May 2, 2011, at 5:40 AM PDT
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  16. Todd Inactive

    Don’t forget that Paul Ryan introduced legislation back in 2008 to repeal Humphrey Hawkins, the legislation that imposed a dual mandate on the Federal Reserve – price stability and full employment.

    Ryan proposed limiting the Fed’s mandate to that of price stability, and advocated a price rule where the dollar is measured against a basket of commodities…

    • #16
    • May 2, 2011, at 5:40 AM PDT
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  17. Paul-FB Member
    Paul-FB Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Professor Rahe,

    Thank you for your very timely and thoughtful inputs. You’re one of the main reasons I joined Ricochet. The public needs good insightful information and the expertise you put forth.

    • #17
    • May 2, 2011, at 5:41 AM PDT
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  18. Standfast Inactive

    I like Ryan, his ideas, and how he handles himself in front of the press and/or opposition. I actually have been hoping that he would become the Speaker of the House. I think he’d do a better job than the current occupant of that position and still keep a heavy thumb on the budget process. It seems to me he might be more valuable there than in the White House.

    But hey, I like the idea of a President Ryan. How ’bout this for a bumper sticker: Vote Ryan. He’s no Rhino.

    • #18
    • May 2, 2011, at 6:07 AM PDT
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  19. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    Dan IV: Dr. Rahe, in the Bobby Jindal article you talked about the fact that the four presidents who had no executive experience fared badly. But isn’t it true Abe Lincoln had no executive experience? After all, all he served was 1 term as a U.S. Representative. · May 1 at 3:09pm

    Yes, I missed Lincoln — a defect in the piece.

    • #19
    • May 2, 2011, at 6:19 AM PDT
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  20. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    Brian Sharkey: I think Paul Ryan would be better served by backing Mitch Daniels as they seem to have similar overall views and acumen for fiscal matters. Ryan could be in the running to be in Mitch’s white house or finish the job he has started in Congress. · May 1 at 3:44pm

    I would not be surprised if it works out that way myself.

    • #20
    • May 2, 2011, at 6:21 AM PDT
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  21. Profile Photo Member
    Paul A. Rahe
    Dan IV: Dr. Rahe, in the Bobby Jindal article you talked about the fact that the four presidents who had no executive experience fared badly. But isn’t it true Abe Lincoln had no executive experience? After all, all he served was 1 term as a U.S. Representative. · May 1 at 3:09pm
    Yes, I missed Lincoln — a defect in the piece. · May 1 at 6:19pm

    Do…not…get…me….started…on Lincoln….

    • #21
    • May 2, 2011, at 6:22 AM PDT
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  22. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    Kenneth: I was really hoping you might get all libertarian on us and go with Gary Johnson. His record in New Mexico was stellar.

    And talk about energy in the executive – the guy is a triathelete who has summited Mt. Everest.

    Ah, well. It least it wasn’t Jeb Bush. · May 1 at 5:29pm

    No, too risky, that last option — in various ways.

    • #22
    • May 2, 2011, at 6:24 AM PDT
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  23. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    tms: Don’t forget that Paul Ryan introduced legislation back in 2008 to repeal Humphrey Hawkins, the legislation that imposed a dual mandate on the Federal Reserve – price stability and full employment.

    Ryan proposed limiting the Fed’s mandate to that of price stability, and advocated a price rule where the dollar is measured against a basket of commodities… · May 1 at 5:40pm

    Very interesting. Thanks for alerting me to this.

    • #23
    • May 2, 2011, at 6:26 AM PDT
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  24. katievs Member
    katievs Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I, too, am for Ryan. He’s the only candidate I could get totally behind at this stage of the game. All of the others–all of them–have serious liabilities. His only liability is his youth, which is relativized by the fact of his long experience in Washington.

    He’s better than Daniels in that he comes across as impassioned, and deeply engaged. Also, he’s tall.

    As I said on an earlier thread, he looks like he’s just stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting. He reminds everyone of what’s best about American.

    I love that he doesn’t want to do it because his kids are young.

    • #24
    • May 2, 2011, at 6:36 AM PDT
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  25. katievs Member
    katievs Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Ryan/Rubio.

    • #25
    • May 2, 2011, at 6:37 AM PDT
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  26. Profile Photo Member

    ‘Non-Rhino’ Ryan did vote to bail out GM. Makes him less than ideal in my eyes.

    • #26
    • May 2, 2011, at 6:50 AM PDT
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  27. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Lincoln didn’t have executive experience in government but he had been an unsuccessful businessman and then a successful lawyer and was principled as both. Government experience is normally inferior to private business experience and character is more important than either since an unprincipled person with experience just has better knowledge of how to cheat, lie and steal and getaway with it. Paul Ryan will make an excellent president someday but I believe we need him right where he is at this time. If we replace president Obama in 2012, the new president will need strong leadership help in congress to make real progress on the deficit and debt problems. Ryan is not only the best man to provide that leadership, he is the only man fully capable of doing so and also positioned to do so.

    • #27
    • May 2, 2011, at 6:58 AM PDT
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  28. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    katievs: Also, he’s tall.

    . · May 1 at 6:36pm

    Edited on May 01 at 06:55 pm

    And suffrage takes a hit….

    • #28
    • May 2, 2011, at 7:04 AM PDT
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  29. JM Hanes Member
    JM Hanes Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    No, no, no! If fiscal sobriety is our goal, we must reform Congress!

    We need a man who can follow the money through the monumental federal labyrinth, navigate House politics and challenge both the President and his colleagues. We need a man of uncompromising character to rout out the corruption institutionalized by Congressional oligarchs like Charlie Rangel. We need a charismatic leader focusing relentlessly on the bottom line and manning the fiscal bully pulpit, not out on the Presidential stump.

    In short, we need Paul Ryan precisely where he is, for as long as we can keep him there. As Budget Chairman, he, not the President, controls the purse strings. As a member of Ways and Means and its subcommittee on Health, he is perfectly positioned to reshape Medicare and derail the bureaucratic architecture of Obamacare, already being set in cement to survive repeal. In concert with committee chairmen dedicated to the full exercise of Congressional oversight he can halt the vast expansion of Presidential powers. It will take more than one two year stint under a Republican majority to make lasting reforms. Controlling Congress and exploiting Obama’s weaknesses could prove even more important than taking the White House.

    • #29
    • May 2, 2011, at 7:31 AM PDT
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  30. katievs Member
    katievs Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Western Chauvinist

    Jimmy Carter

    katievs: Also, he’s tall.

    And suffrage takes a hit…. · May 1 at 7:04pm
    Guffaw! That’s funny.

    I’m surprised you keep emphasizing this katievs. If the electorate is so shallow during this time of such grave national peril as to decide the election based on inches… well, close the bar folks, the party’s over.

    Lest there is any doubt about the matter, I would pull the lever for our nominee even if he were a dwarf.

    But we are speaking of who our nominee should be. We all want the one who has the best chance of defeating Obama. And, as Andrew Ferguson pointed out on the podcast, optics matter. Whether we like it or not, height conveys an impression of stature and authority.

    I recently read a statistic that something like 90% of single women say they’re looking for a man at least 6 feet tall. It shouldn’t be so, but it is. That’s the world we live in.

    • #30
    • May 2, 2011, at 7:49 AM PDT
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