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The Road Ahead: Searching for a Standard-Bearer

On Monday, I tried to make sense of the pessimism and defeatism that have long had conservatives in their grip. On Tuesday, I argued that the reasons for pessimism and defeatism no longer apply – that circumstances have changed dramatically, that Barack Obama is the answer to our prayers: that he has brought us to the edge of a precipice and forced us to look into the abyss, and that a majority of Americans now recognize that things cannot go on as they have in the past. As the 2010 election suggested, and as recent events have confirmed, this is our moment – this is for us what 1932 was for the progressives. We in America are on the verge of a new birth of freedom.

There is, of course, a fly in the ointment. The Republican Party has a gift for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. That party ordinarily nominates the next fellow on the list without much regard to the man’s suitability at the time whether as a candidate or as a President. I do not mean to denigrate Bob Dole and John McCain. They put in years of largely admirable service, but it is no surprise that, in their dotage, they lost to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Americans do not want to be governed by the living dead. They want someone alive who exudes vitality and capacity.

The Republican Party is replete with talent. But many of those of obvious capacity – Chris Christie of New Jersey, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Marco Rubio of Florida, to name the most obvious – are not yet seasoned, and the best known of those running or likely to run are unsuitable. I will not mention Donald Trump. He is doing good service, forcing Barack Obama to reveal what has long remained hidden, and focusing attention on the question whether the man pretending to be President of the United States has the requisite qualifications. But Trump is not a Republican in any understandable sense, and he is a clown. I will limit myself to figures with gravitas.

mitt_romney.jpgI admire Mitt Romney. He is a capable businessman and a fine manager. He did wonders for the Olympics in 2002, and he managed to get elected and to serve one term as Governor of Massachusetts. But we have to face facts. He had his chance in 2008, and he blew it. Here is a telling story. In 2006 or 2007, he was invited to Hillsdale College to speak at graduation. In anticipation, everyone was excited, my colleagues tell me; and in the event, everyone was disappointed. He did not respond to the situation. He gave a stump speech, and he was upstaged by the undergraduate who spoke as valedictorian after him (a young man who now holds public office, let me add). I am told that, at about the same time, he disappointed the attendees at the banquet held each year under the auspices of National Review and that he did so in precisely the same fashion. He had no sense of occasion. To this, I can add something substantive. Romney is flexible in the way that businessmen learn to be. In Massachusetts, he was pro-abortion; on the national stage, he was anti-abortion. And let’s face it, Romneycare really was the model for Obamacare. Mitt Romney should not be in the race. He is not in a position to articulate the case for individual freedom and limited government. The great danger is that – in the environment shaped by McCain-Feingold – the fact that he has money of his own means that, in the Spring of 2012, he will be the last man standing.

gingrich-newt.jpgSimilar things can be said about Newt Gingrich. His intelligence cannot be doubted. But his personal life cannot be defended, and he is a loose cannon – apt to line up with the likes of Nancy Pelosi on a fashionable issue like global warming. More to the point, he is a managerial progressive. Like Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, and both Bush père and Bush fils, he is always on the outlook for something additional that the federal government can do. He is in no position to articulate the case for limited government, and what applies to him applies to Mike Huckabee as well. Just look at his record as Governor of Arkansas.

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That leaves Tim Pawnlenty. I was in Minneapolis a couple of weeks ago, circulating in circles friendly to the cause of limited government. I asked everyone I met what they thought of him. He was universally praised. In his two terms as Governor, he had prevented any number of things that would have done the state great harm. It was due to him that it is emerging from the recession in relatively good shape. Everyone said that they would vote for him again if he ran for Governor. No one trashed him, but no one was fully confident that he was presidential timber. That is one indicator. Tim_Pawlenty_28.jpgThere is another. Governor Pawlenty is not taking the lead. No one is sure where he stands on the crucial issues of our time. In the background, a great deal of calculation seems to be going on, and it appears to be the case that he is inclined to check the polls, take the public pulse, and determine his stands on that basis. If what I surmise is in any way true, he is not the man of the hour. We need a man of conviction.

Mitch Daniels would appear to fit the bill. As Governor of Indiana, his record is stellar, and what he has done there in bringing the state’s budget into balance, in taking on the public-sector unions, in preparing his state to weather the recent recession is closely similar to what is now needed in Washington; and in laying the groundwork for an improvement of the state’s grade schools, middle schools, and high schools, he has shown others the way. Governor Daniels has a superb understanding of the crisis of the welfare state. He was director of the Office of Management and Budget under George W. Bush. He knows where the money comes from and where it goes, and, over the last few months, he has repeatedly spoken up regarding our current fiscal crisis. He is in his forthrightness in this regard everything that Governor Pawlenty has not been thus far.

As regular visitors to Ricochet know, I have in the past been sharply critical of Governor Daniels. On one count – his appointment of a particular state Supreme Court judge – David Pippen, the Governor’s General Counsel, persuaded me that the criticism I directed at him was unjustified. On the other two counts, I remained deeply concerned – until yesterday.

MitchDaniels.jpgIn a speech delivered some months ago, Governor Daniels called for “a truce” on the social issues. He appeared to think that this would help him put together a coalition of Democrats and Republicans willing and able to tackle the fiscal crisis we face. I was, frankly, appalled, and here is what I wrote:

In the period since 1973, evangelical Christians, who had long voted for the Democratic Party, and Roman Catholics began drifting into the Republican Party. They did so for any number of reasons, but the primary driver was the stance of the Democratic Party regarding abortion. The Republicans welcomed them into their ranks, and they committed themselves to rolling back Roe v. Wade. But to date they have not delivered, and the evangelicals and the Catholics are restive in our ranks. Many of them are attracted – foolishly, I think – by the social welfare policies promoted by the Democratic Party. For generations, the Catholic bishops and priests have encouraged Catholic parishioners to think of social welfare as a form of charity, to mistake resources taken by coercion for free gifts, and many a Protestant preacher has in similar fashion come to preach the Social Gospel. Nonetheless, they are appalled – and rightly so – by the massacre of fifty million unborn Americans, and this has shaken them from the grasp of the progressives.

I am not arguing that the next election should or will be fought over abortion. No Republican presidential candidate has done so to date. What Mitch Daniels proposes, however, is not that the Republicans emphasize the fiscal crisis in 2012. No one would object to that. He is arguing that the social issues be set aside – temporarily, he says, until we have dealt with the fiscal crisis. In the meantime, we will have to form a larger coalition that takes in large numbers of those who favor abortion.

I have no idea whether Daniels has the wit to understand the implications of what he is proposing. I would like to think that he lacks the wit, for I would prefer to judge him a fool than to think him a knave. In any case, what I will say is that this is a matter that cannot be taken off the table any more than slavery could be taken off the table in the 1850s, Stephen Douglas to the contrary notwithstanding. We cannot have a “truce” over the legitimacy of the massacre of fifty million innocents. Truce is a euphemism for surrender – and if the Republicans surrender, the evangelicals and the Catholics will wander out of the coalition in much the same fashion in which they wandered in. And, then, what will be left?

My words were harsh – some would say, unduly harsh, and they may perhaps be right. But I do not regret pressing the matter. In my judgment, a great deal was and is at stake, and I am not alone in thinking as much. I have it on good authority that a number of Republicans, far more experienced in and knowledgeable about electoral politics in this country than I am, made the same point to Governor Daniels in private. I was told some weeks ago that, in the face of their suggestions, he stubbornly adhered to his original stance.

In consequence, I was greatly relieved to learn of Governor Daniels’ announcement yesterday that he intends to sign a bill passed by the legislature in Indiana that defunds Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers and that imposes stringent restrictions on the provision of abortions in that state. This suggests to me that we can trust him to appoint women and men as judges who will see to it that Roe v. Wade is reversed and that the question of abortion and other matters of moral police are returned to the citizens of the particular states – where their merits and demerits can be properly debated. In this and other regards, I have faith that the American people are competent to govern themselves.

One concern remains. Here is what I wrote in February:

[O]ur fiscal crisis is not the only particular that the next President will have to address. It is pressing. It may seem to be the most pressing of our problems. But I could easily imagine difficulties that would outweigh the fiscal crisis. Indeed, I suspect that such difficulties may soon present themselves. Our strategic situation is less strong than it was in the recent past. In the Pacific, the Chinese are behaving like bullies, and step by step, at a far more rapid rate than we had anticipated, they are putting military pieces in place intended to guarantee them strategic superiority offshore. What this means no one knows. But it would be foolish not to plan for the worst. My bet is that over the next fifteen years they will try to duplicate Japan’s achievement in establishing a Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. In other words, their aim will be to achieve hegemony – both military and economic – over all of their neighbors: from Australia and New Zealand in the South to North and South Korea in the North.

I also believe that we are witnessing a strategic shift in the Mediterranean and the Near East. I have argued elsewhere, at some length, that Arab nationalism is finished – and that it is highly likely that the world of Sunni Islam will follow Shiite Iran in the direction of what I call “Islamic Revivalism.” Put simply, the Arab nationalism that emerged in the 1920s and came of age in the 1940s has failed. To the Arabs, it has brought neither prosperity nor military strength, and next to no one in the younger generation (apart from opportunists) is on its side. They are turning to the only remaining cultural force that has purchase in the post-Cold War world. They are turning to Islam, and to it they now look to answer all of their questions. I cannot predict the short-term consequences of the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Jordan, and Bahrain. But I believe that I can predict the long-term drift of politics in that part of the worlds and in Turkey as well. Those states will become more fiercely Islamic and much more hostile to us, to our European allies, and, of course, to Israel.

To this picture, we should add the Iranian quest to gain nuclear weapons. If that quest is successful – and I see no clear indication that, under Barack Obama, we are going to do anything decisive to stop it, the theocrats in Iran will become much more aggressive, and the Sunnis will move heaven and earth to get their own nuclear weapons. Given the concentration of oil in the states surrounding the Persian Gulf, this bodes ill for us and for our allies in Europe.

What does Mitch Daniels know about any of this? We have no indication. All that we know is that he believes that the military budget needs to be cut in the same manner as the rest of the federal budget. This I regard as profoundly dangerous. In the wake of the Cold War, we cut back massively – in the number of ships, the number of planes, and the number of men – and in recent years we have cancelled one procurement program after another, ignoring the gains made by the Chinese and our changing strategic situation in and beyond the Mediterranean. If Daniels thinks he can cut the budget further, I would want to know what missions he thinks we can safely drop. What we have done in recent years is to extend the responsibilities of the military while cutting back their resources. That way lies disaster.

To date, Governor Daniels has not addressed these concerns in such a manner as to allay them. It is by no means too late. He will soon decide whether to become a candidate for the nomination. He has completed his work as Governor of Indiana. He has situated himself perfectly for the political struggle ahead should he choose to undertake it. I hope that he does run and that, within the next month or two, he finds occasion for an address in which he outlines his understanding of our strategic situation and of the resources that we will need to deploy if were are going to be equal to the tasks we are apt to face.

In one or two of the comments on my earlier post, I was accused of being hostile to Governor Daniels. I was not hostile then, and I am certainly not hostile now. Of the candidates running or rumored to be running, he seemed to me then and he seems to me now to be the one best qualified to be our standard-bearer. My worry then was that he had two major blind spots and that they might portend disaster for our cause and our country. I thought it best that I express my concerns in the firmest manner possible – if only to give Governor Daniels ample opportunity to reflect on them. I restate the last of these concerns now in the hope that he will soon display in this regard the same keen understanding he has displayed in dealing with the fiscal and the educational concerns of his fellow citizens in Indiana.

Apart, perhaps, from Governor Pawlenty, who has not yet shown his cards, I know of only one Republican with sufficient seasoning who can bear comparison with Governor Daniels, and it is to this admirable man that I will devote my next post.