Seeking the Next President
A look at the GOP field


Conrad Black

Considering the vulnerability of this administration’s record and its low standing in the polls, and the parlous condition of the country by almost any measurement, the ostentatious confidence with which the president and his entourage have kicked off their reelection campaign, and the sluggish and sometimes slapstick start of the Republicans, have been surprising. The fact that the campaigns are overtly beginning 18 months before Election Day — and are expected to cost up to $2 billion for the presidential candidates alone — is scandalous. The baneful effects of total candidate immersion in vats of money at all levels is a truism, and it would strain readers’ patience to labor it again.

I am afraid that I must, even at this early date, engage in arm-flapping concern about the standards of campaign addresses. I have seen almost all the likely challengers on television, and I object to the piling on suffered by Donald Trump as grand vizier of the still-birthers, and by Newt Gingrich as self-nominated convener of America’s thousandth National Conversation on the Deficit. My objection is rooted not in conviction that either of them was on to something, but rather in the fact that the other apparent contestants haven’t raised the bar very far above them.

Whether Mr. Obama was a U.S. citizen at birth or not is just pseudo-constitutional pettifogging, and he deserves credit for not remaining silent longer and allowing those obsessing on it to go farther out on a limb. And Newt Gingrich huffed and puffed for a decade before setting forth on his presidential journey, which seemed to strike an iceberg before it cleared the port of departure. Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich are intelligent men and it is inexplicable why they effectively cooperated with all those who wished to dismiss them as fools. Sarah Palin doesn’t seem to be a serious candidate, but that doesn’t justify her rampages around the Republican vineyard. Ronald Reagan said the eleventh commandment was “Never speak ill of a fellow Republican,” and the Gipper was the biggest vote-winner in Republican history. I am seized with nostalgia for the “Front Porch Election”: William McKinley and others, tossing aphorisms off to passers-by from their verandah rocking chairs, after the bosses had nominated them at conventions they didn’t attend after campaigns in smoke-filled rooms that probably didn’t cost $10,000.

Listening to people question whether any sane person would get up at 6 a.m. to campaign and explaining that they themselves are doing it only from love of country; that what is needed is bipartisanship, to address “the people’s business” — I even become misty-eyed remembering Richard Nixon’s Rose Garden campaign, even if it did start at the Watergate. And any candidate who tries for more than 30 seconds in any political speech to peddle the shopworn bunk about how the whole world is looking with lonely eyes to America to shed its grace on them and uplift the world, should be explicitly threatened that repetition at more frequent intervals than two weeks could lead to their tongues being plucked out with red-hot tongs as a warm-up act for the McMahon (Connecticut Senate manquée) family’s next heavyweight, world-championship, women’s groin- and shin-kicking and eye-gouging contest.

The entire world is gape-mouthed at how, as a sorbet after its brilliant and almost bloodless victory in the Cold War, the United States has run over and off the cliff of debt, been swindled by the Chinese, been played for an idiot by OPEC, carried the European and Japanese luxury-goods industries on its back like a bipartisan donkey, outsourced 40 million jobs while admitting 15 million illegal and vocationally unskilled immigrants, created the greatest financial bonfire in history by papering itself in trillions of dollars of worthless real-estate-backed debt (certified as investment grade by Wall Street and by the rating agencies that have now put the U.S. on credit watch), and immolated itself like a disgruntled Burmese monk or Tunisian dissident.