Always look on the bright side of life

As you know, I don’t have much bad to say about the leading Republican candidates, all of whom I think are qualified to take the White House (including my least favorite of the bunch, John McCain).  They’re certainly more qualified than their closest, and sometimes very scary, competitors.

With that in mind, a couple of months ago I wrote a very commented upon post examining whether Romney’s Mormonism should get in the way of the White House. With few exceptions, even those least enthusiastic about his Mormonism were willing to concede that Mitt would be a better alternative than the Democratic candidate, whoever that candidate was.

Drawing back from Mitt specifically, and looking at the Republican field as a whole, I wrote an article for American Thinker in which I argued that each of the leading Republican candidates (McCain included), stands head and shoulders above the Democratic leaders, if one is looking at maturity and a willingness to take on responsibility (and to do so successfully):

If you look at the leading Republican candidates, you’ll see that all of them have held positions of real responsibility at one time or another in their lives. Rudy Giuliani was a federal prosecutor who took on the truly dangerous job of bringing down some of New York’s most powerful crime families; although a Republican he was one of the most successful mayors in Democratic New York’s history (and New York has a larger population than Howard Dean’s Vermont); and he handled the 9/11 crisis with almost unparalleled grace and strength.

Mitt Romney has been successful at everything he’s touched: he was a top Harvard Business School graduate; he went on to be an unusually successful investment banker, who managed to prevent Bain & Company from going into economic freefall; continuing his knack for business turnarounds, he also kept the beleaguered Salt Lake City Olympics from turning into an economic and ethical disaster; and he was a singularly successful conservative governor in that bluest of blue states, Massachusetts.

The coy Fred Thompson, whom the media likes to identify as a TV actor, was in fact a major player in Watergate, when he was co-chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee that was investigating the scandal. He was also a Senator, which I hold against him, but more about that later.

John McCain, while carrying around that same Senatorial taint, also proved himself early in life. In keeping with his family’s Naval tradition, he was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and became a Navy flier. Although he’s remembered most for the five and a half brutal years he spent as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, many people ignore the fact that he flew twenty-three missions in Vietnam before he was finally shot down and captured.

In other words, all four of these men, the men I believe are going to hold front runner status throughout the Republican primaries, have at all times in their lives embraced responsibility in one form or another. These men are not behind the scenes players. They are, and always have been, grown-ups who are willing to step up to the plate and act. Truman-esque, each could have on his desk a plaque stating, “The buck stops here.”

I don’t think one can say the same for leading Democratic contenders. The most testosterone rich contender, Hillary Clinton, positioned herself firmly behind her man for most of her career and sniped from there. When she tried to carry out a project on her own, as she did with 1994’s Hillarycare, the result was a debacle. She swiftly slunk back into the shadows. Only after her husband’s career peaked, did she decide to take an active role in politics, and that role she selected was that of Senator.

As you may recall, when I spoke of McCain and Thompson, I held against them their Senatorial careers. There’s nothing wrong with being a Senator – they’re very useful — but it’s not a role of primary responsibility. It’s a pack role. Whether you’re for or against something, you move with the pack. Also, as Kerry memorably discovered with his voting for a bill before he voted against it, the nature of Legislative packages means that it’s impossible for the voters, and often for the Senators themselves, to have any notion of what they stand for. Being a Senator means never having to take responsibility. Indeed, I think the American people have always intuitively grasped this point, which is why only two Senators have gone directly from the Senate to the White House.

Barack Obama, of course, is a Senator squared. This is a man who has never taken on solo responsibility (although I’ll agree that he had a charmingly eclectic childhood). After a short career as a junior associate at a law firm (a position singularly devoid of primary responsibility), he went on to become a lecturer (an important job, but not a particularly brave or patriarchal one), then an Illinois State Senator and for the past two and half years, he’s been a United States Senator. This is a Peter Pan career, one in which Obama has managed to garner a lot of face time without ever actually assuming responsibility for anything or anybody.

John Edwards is another perpetual Peter Pan, channeling babies’ voices, fomenting junk science, paying a lot of attention to personal grooming, and assiduously avoiding a situation in which he has primary responsibility for anything meaningful. In this regard, his Senatorial career also stands as an indictment of his perpetual immaturity. The same immaturity – an immaturity that is the polar opposite of responsible manliness — can be seen in the staggering divide between Edward’s stated principles (he’s the defender of the dispossessed in the “two Americas”) and his actual lifestyle (which is one few can imagine and even fewer can experience). I see that same type of reality disconnect on a daily basis when my elementary school age son and his friends gaze down the lengths of their skinny little boy bodies and are firmly convinced that they could be mistaken for G.I. Joe.

In other words, I don’t believe the Republican candidates are perfect — but unlike prospective voters, I don’t expect them to be. I’m a big believer in the saying that the perfect is the enemy of the good. If we keep looking for the perfect Republican candidate, one who appeals to every single demographic within the conservative political spectrum, we’ll end up with no one at all, and then we can sit back and watch as the Democrats waltz their way to victory.

I didn’t realize when I took this optimistic view of the available Republican candidates that I’m in good company historically. Quin Hillyer writes about the fact that, in 1960, Barry Goldwater also scolded Conservatives to “stop their whining.” History shows that the Republicans were unable to take this advice, with the result that the Democrats won (with the Presidency going to a man whose politics, ironically, would probably make him a Republican today). I’m not trying to re-argue the 1960 election, but I am going to urge you to take to heart Hillyer’s reminder about Goldwater as well as the praise Hillyer heaps on the candidates now before us:

At the 1960 Republican National Convention in Chicago, Barry Goldwater famously told conservatives to “grow up.” It’s time we hear that message again.

As in 1960, the conservative movement seems grumbling, disaffected, even downright angry — and, most importantly, it sometimes seems more interested in complaining and moaning than in uniting, constructively, to achieve political success.

What’s worse is that we seem to be fighting among ourselves. Every chance we get, we take shots at other conservatives. Nobody, it seems, is good enough. We moan that nobody is another Reagan. Nobody is another Churchill. Nobody is another Washington.

To which we ought to say, so what? There’s only one Second Coming, and He isn’t running for anything.

It’s time we look at the good things we’ve got — and the good people, and the good times. Take stock of those goods, and celebrate them, and consolidate them in an attractive way, and build, build, build upon them.

Before going further with this argument, let’s try a little exercise. Let’s consider the major Republican presidential candidates, and recognize just how solid they are by saying something good about each of them:

Fred Thompson
has built a career as a reformer with a solidly mainstream-conservative record. He did the legal work that helped imprison Ray Blanton, a corrupt, Democratic governor of Tennessee. And Thompson is a very good communicator.

Rudy Giuliani
was quite arguably the best big-city mayor in the history of mankind. And his record in New York was conservative on just about every count.

Mitt Romney is a superb businessman; he rescued the Winter Olympics in Utah; and he figured out how to get elected statewide as a Republican in Massachusetts and, once there, governed more conservatively than he campaigned.

John McCain
is an American hero. And he has the political courage to stick to his guns in foul weather. He’s terrific in support of the military, and against wasteful spending.

Not to belabor the point, but the same could be said for some of the lesser-known GOP presidential contenders. For instance, Duncan Hunter has spent 25 years as a wise, stalwart and effective supporter of our military, and he is a kind and palpably decent human being who sticks with friends through thick and thin.

And Tommy Thompson, in his three-plus terms as Wisconsin’s chief executive, easily proved he ranks with Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, Florida’s Jeb Bush, and Alabama’s Bob Riley as the best governors of the past half-century.

And so on.

Read the rest here.  Looking over Hillyer’s words, maybe I like them because they perfectly echo what I wrote a month ago:  we’ve got good guys from whom to choose.  We’d do well to focus on their respective strengths, rather than to obsess about their weaknesses — especially because those obsessions leak into the larger public mind and will affect the paradigms in place when the elections roll around.

There is no one out there who is perfect.  I’ll repeat what I said before, however, that, in politics as in all things, the perfect is the enemy of the good.  And if you’re the persnickety kind who thinks the good just isn’t good enough, please don’t forget that, when it comes to two party elections, the opposite of the good is likely to be the bad and the very bad.


9 Responses

  1. while i do agree with your advice to look for the good in the available candidates, i don’t agree with your method of choosing who the best candidate is. Why do we look at peoples careers to judge who can best rule our country? it should not be about what they did, but what they want to do, and whether or not that is whats best for country. i know many people who are teachers or mechanics or photographers, who could lead this country to much better days then our current president has. their jobs do not show how much responsibility or initiative they have, but they probably have more then any of the candidates that are running now. while its nice that the republican candidates have shown more responsibility in the past through their careers, that does not mean that they are the best suited for the job they are applying for.

  2. Judging candidates by what they want to do, and whether or not that is best for the country, is all fine & dandy however one can have the best of intentions and the best most holistic and idealistic aspirations, and absolutely no ability whatsoever to put any of those intentions and aspirations into effect. One judges people by what they have done not what they intended to do. I intended to bring about world peace by the time I was 30; oops, missed that mark by 25 years, but what I wanted to do was really sterling.

  3. in politics as in all things, the perfect is the enemy of the good. Exactly right, Book. A truism that needs to be in every arsenal.

  4. Whoa!

    Among the many problems with Sheffieldj’s analysis is the basic fact that most politicians are going to “want to do” whatever appeals to the majority of voters (depending on which voting block they see in the majority at any given time based on their polling and focus groups). Guaranteed!

    Too much time in touchy-feely environment leads to very fuzzy thought processes.

  5. but what they want to do, and whether or not that is whats best for country.

    The worst leaders in history started off with the best of intentions. Or rather, started off with the appearance of the best of intentions. What a politician says or promise is not the same thing as what they have already done.

  6. Anyone who wants a reasonably thorough introduction to Mitt Romney, along with some analysis of strengths and weaknesses, could do a lot worse than to read Hugh Hewitt’s book about the man, A Mormon in the White House:

    It’s also available used – try

  7. […] Bookworm Room, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” […]

  8. For emphasis from today’s BotWT
    Actually, when you think about it, it’s amazing how similar the 2008 race is to the 2004 race. We have a formidable establishment candidate who originally backed the war, then changed his mind (John Kerry then, Hillary Clinton now); a challenger who has opposed the war all along, and who is clearly out of his depth (Howard Dean, Barack Obama); and a third guy who stands around looking pretty (John Edwards, John Edwards). The biggest difference is that Mike Gravel doesn’t quite have the gravitas of a Carol Moseley Braun.

  9. Too bad W’s daughters can’t stay sober for just a few hours. One of them would make a better president than anything the Democrats or Republicans can muster.

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