Here’s my attempt at cheering up Erick, who laments that all of the potential Republican presidential candidates stink. (Except he doesn’t use the word, “stink.”)
John McCain: Okay, my Democratic friends may want to skip the next paragraph or two…
During the Clinton administration, one of the disturbing truths that nagged at us the most was our conclusion that for all of his skills and talents, Bill Clinton was not a good man. He was a master of following the polls, was gifted in persuasion and rhetoric, presided over an economic boom, signed welfare reform – but at the heart of him was empty hunger, and a refusal to face the music when he screwed up. For eight years, our ship of state was steered by an eternal adolescent who would lash out at his Secretary of Health and Human Services when she dared point out that sleeping with subordinates is wrong.
Yes, a President McCain would annoy many conservatives. His Super-Duper Improved Campaign Finance Reform would be interpreted by the FEC to ban blogging about campaigns, and the Supreme Court would interpret it as making it illegal to criticize the Supreme Court. His giving the weekly national address on the Daily Show would grate on our nerves. Our biweekly lectures about how corrupt we have become, and how he was put on earth to clean it up, will quickly grow tiresome.
I’m trying to find a copy of David Foster Wallace’s profile of McCain during the 2000 campaign; the closest I’ve found was a short excerpt on Salon.
As the article notes, the then Navy pilot was shot down over Hanoi, ejected himself from his plane, breaking three limbs in the process, fell into a lake in a park in the middle of the city, was dragged out by bystanders and beaten up on top of the injuries he already had, including being bayoneted in the groin; was imprisoned without medical care, then offered release (because he was an admiral’s son), which was refused, Wallace writes, because of “The Code” — something about prisoners having to be released in the order they were captured. Because he did this voluntarily, Wallace writes, McCain has “the moral authority to utter lines about causes beyond self-interest and to expect us … to believe he means them. It feels like we know, for a proven fact, that he’s capable of devotion to something other, more, than his own self interest.”
Whatever his flaws, McCain has been tested, and demonstrated his love and unbreakable loyalty to this country in a way that few of us can imagine. Not talking, and not taking an offer of early release because it was designed to break the spirit of the other POWs and violated his sense of honor? Folks, this is as close as we’re going to get to President Jack Bauer.
President McCain will be, no matter what else, a good man.
Rudy Giuliani: Okay, look, did you live anywhere near New York City in the 1980s and early 1990s? Here’s a quick trip down memory lane: Bernie Goetz, the teens “wilding” in Central Park going after the jogger, Howard Beach, Yusuf Hawkins in Bensonhurst, Tawana Brawley, Crown Heights, the “Rotten Apple” on the cover of Time magazine… Watch some old episodes of Law and Order, the first season with Michael Moriarity and Chris Noth. The city is portrayed as a tinderbox of racial hatred, the subways are a cesspool of graffiti and hostile gangs of youths… I suspect that the corruption-and-crime ridden gloom of Gotham City in 1989’s Batman were inspired by the sense of accelerating urban decay in the Big Apple. “Decent people shouldn’t live here… they’d be happier someplace else.”
Along comes this guy Rudy, campaigning saying he’s going to go after the squeegee men. (Think about how bad things had to be in New York City for voters to consider a Republican.) The squeegee men were guys who would stand in busy intersections, smear your windshield with a rag so dirty it warranted a Hazmat team, and then demand money for the “service” they provided. And many New Yorkers would throw a dollar their way, just to avoid the hassle. (These guys particularly went after women driving alone, stuck in traffic.)
And within a month or two of Rudy taking office, the cops were going after these guys, and suddenly being a squeegee man wasn’t a good way to panhandle. Rudy fixed it. (With a lot of help from men like former police commissioner William Bratton; it’s a shame that these guys couldn’t share the credit.) And month by month, year by year, the city’s problems that seemed insurmountable start being fixed – the crime rate, economic growth, garbage collection, the drug influx, organized crime, redevelopment of neighborhoods like Times Square… and he ejected Yassir Arafat from a Lincoln Center event.
Yes, yes, “pro-choice, pro-gay rights, bad on the Second Amendment, goes through wives like Henry the VIII without the beheadings,” etc. But the guy had an unparalleled transformative effect on the daily life of millions of Americans. (You want pro-life? Think about the lives that have been saved because of the drop in New York City’s crime rate.)
The guy took on tasks that all the “smart people” said were impossible, and achieved them in strikingly fast time. If he could do that as mayor, imagine what he could do with the presidency.
(And notice, this argument didn’t even mention his leadership during 9/11.)
Mitt Romney: the one-governor’s record is a little thinner, but he, too, presided over a remarkable turnaround. Again, it’s easy to forget what a disaster the Salt Lake City games were expected to be – the previous organizers had run a deficit of more than $300 million, there were allegations of bribery, the president and vice president of the organizing committee were forced to resign, and there was serious talk of canceling events and scaling back the Games due to inadequate financial resources. (Talk about a national black eye that would have been – America couldn’t manage an Olympics because of rampant corruption in a city dominated by Mormons.) Romney steps in with about two years to go, and pretty much saves the day – the finances get in order (actually, they made a profit of about $100 million!), they handle the sudden new concern over terrorism after 9/11, and the games come off without a hitch, unless you count the French judge taking a bribe over the figure skating competition.
What does this tell us about Romney? He can handle a crisis, he’s at ease in a position of leadership, he can bring together a lot of squabbling voices and get them focused on the big picture, even when time is short. Not a bad bunch of traits to have in a commander-in-chief.
Newt Gingrich: I’ll just note that for those of us annoyed by the state of American discourse – where “Make America a better place to live, work and raise a family,” is taken seriously as a message for a campaign – a Gingrich presidency would instantly make our national dialogue at least fifty percent smarter.
(You have to love a candidate who, when asked by a snotty teen at an MTV forum whether he wears “Boxers or briefs?” responds, “That is a very stupid question, and it’s stupid for you to ask that question.” The only way it could have been better is if he made the little punk cry.)
Long before the tech world was contemplating the $100 laptop as a possible solution to alleviate world poverty, Newt was thinking out loud about giving laptops to the homeless. Newt seems like the kind of guy who has twelve ideas before breakfast every morning, and at least some of them are likely to be good ones.
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I’ll leave it to others to make the case for the other folks running for president – I’m less familiar with the Duncan Hunters, the Sam Brownbacks, the Mike Huckabees. But there’s something to admire in just about every man and woman on this earth; there’s certainly something to like about every candidate. (Maybe even some of the Democrats.)
Conservatives ought not be looking for their own Barack Obama; it’s a fool’s errand. Focus on the task at hand: Which man (or woman) is the best choice to represent the party, and lead the nation, starting on January 20, 2009?