What’s the one fact about the political situation in America that we do not emphasize enough — think through enough — try hard enough to confront? I’m sure you have your own views on that, likely better than mine, and I encourage you to publish them. My own view is that there is not one politician playing Churchill.
Do you know the phrase, America will do the right thing once it’s tried everything else? Well, America is trying lots of things and must come to the right thing, but who will do it? Who is the politician who will lead public opinion and possibly the government when necessity will be upon you?
Churchill said, upon assuming the commanding authority, that he finally felt at peace — the hour was late, but the man had come. He described not his unique competence, but his unique reputation: He had been out of power so long that no rumor or fear of partisanship could arise; he had been confirmed in so many dire predictions that no doubt as to his knowledge could arise. He was innocent of the misdeeds and could be thought to excel in facing up to events and facing down the terrible threat.
This reputation took a lot of work. He warned incessantly of the coming crisis, against the will of his party — against the Tory attitude to politics. That is how everyone knew to whom to look. They did not need to learn who would lead them, only to remember. America needs this as well — politicians who will speak about the threat facing the nation — publicly, expertly, confidently.
It is no longer obvious, but this was a desperate gamble on Churchill’s part. It was the end of his career — it would have been, had events not borne him out — had he not helped events by moving to the center of public discourse. So it would be a gamble today: The man who tries to tell America about foreign policy cannot become popular but he might win the respect of the warrior class. Churchill did. People told him things they thought the nation had to know, but which they could not trust the state or the parties to utter publicly.
The things one reads about in the news and the things one does not form a complete picture that the politician must communicate. The common defense is the central justification of the Union in the preamble to the Constitution. It requires a common understanding of threats. It requires a politician who will speak forcefully, repeatedly, tirelessly — until everyone tires of him and his speeches are met first with annoyance, then scorn, and finally hope.
The old phrase is, who wants peace should prepare for war. Well, who expects war has to prepare for war. The preparation is not only the acquired knowledge of intelligence communities or security experts or aides and advisers on matters foreign and domestic. Part of the preparation requires public speeches. Who understands this? Who is committing himself to this long, arduous, thankless task? Where is your Churchill, America?