Politics & Policy

A Republican Sweep

And a new generation of leaders.

As we are now a month from the midterm elections, I will boldly predict their outcome. Before readers prepare for information that may cause them to place bets and take risky gambles on the election results, I should mention that my last foray into this sort of thing was my endorsement of a candidate for mayor of Toronto a couple of weeks ago, which received a good deal of approval for about 48 hours, at which point my candidate withdrew from the race. I don’t have a bad record for predicting U.S. presidential elections, 13 of 14 in my conscient life (I thought Humphrey would win in 1968), but this year’s prediction, which I reserve the right to alter if there are radical shifts in the next few weeks, makes no pretense to more than intuition and reading the polls. The Republicans will win control of both houses of Congress. (I’m less concerned with state races, though I still think Meg Whitman will be the winning candidate for governor in California, and that Nikki Haley will win in South Carolina.)

The Republicans should win a majority of about 15 in the House, consigning the Pelosi era to the proverbial dustbin. She will be remembered as a stylish and elegant woman who always got the votes for her president, but was identified almost unerringly with dumb causes. I think the Republicans will not lose any Senate seats they now hold and will pick up those at stake in Arkansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The latest polls I have seen have them leading all of those races except California, where I think Fiorina will win because she is a more competent and presentable candidate than the incumbent, Barbara Boxer. Senator Boxer is intellectually unimpressive, and Carly Fiorina is an accomplished career woman who will gain votes from having been fired as CEO of Hewlett-Packard — a humbling experience many can identify with in these times — and from being a successful cancer patient.

Harry Reid has been the least distinguished Senate majority leader since the trivia-question trio of Wallace H. White, Scott Lucas, and Ernest McFarland, who held the post for two years each between two of its storied occupants, Alben W. Barkley (1937–47) and Lyndon B. Johnson (1953–61), who both went on to national office. The campaign of his opponent, the peppy Tea Party populist Sharron Angle, has essentially consisted of emerging twice a day like a cuckoo clock to announce: “I am not Harry Reid.” He would be the only Senate majority leader to be denied reelection to the Senate since the above-named Lucas and McFarland, and his most memorable statement was the solemn declaration in 2007 that the U.S. had “lost” the Iraq War. Few of these races or the personalities in them are especially interesting. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington is defending her assertion that she was not sure if hiding under a school desk would be an efficient defense against a hydrogen-bomb attack, and the Illinois race for President Obama’s seat pits a Republican plagued with hallucinatory recollections from a career he did not have and a Democratic executive of a failed bank identified with some of the pelagic sleaze of the Chicago Democratic party that helped fund the president. If the Republicans fall a seat short, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut could be expected to suffer another case of the waffles and, in exchange for the chairmanship of an adequately influential committee, might undergo the grace of conversion to Republicanism.

Any such result would be welcome, as it would further cut away the ability of the Obama administration proactively to inflict legislative madness on the country. Cap-and-trade, income-tax increases, and more corrupt giveaways to organized labor would be over. However, the ability of the administration to careen singlehandedly into more gigantic potholes should not be underestimated, especially in foreign affairs, and a Republican Congress alone, even if it had the will and ingenuity to do so, of which there is no evidence, could not stave off the economic debacle that looms. This highlights the greatest concern stirred by this election: The candidates have not really come to grips with the issues that threaten the country.

The influence of the U.S. is in precipitate decline in the world. There is complete confusion over the mission in Afghanistan, moderated only by the president’s commendable determination not to be mired in it indefinitely or to spend a trillion dollars there. It is not clear that any useful power-sharing will result from the prodigies expended in two wars in Iraq, as Prime Minister Maliki clings to office, leaning on Iranian help through Moqtada al-Sadr, many months after having narrowly lost the election: two states with undemocratically installed governments propping each other up. This was not what 4,000 Americans died for and the U.S spent a trillion dollars to secure. Obama never had ownership of the Iraq War until he became president, and if the present trend continues, it will indeed, as he and Reid and Pelosi predicted, be a failed war.

If Iran acquires a nuclear military capability, it will be the end of the era in which America is the world’s preeminent strategic power. And if something is not done to reduce the federal deficit, to muscle down the debt bomb that threatens almost every debt-issuing jurisdiction in the public sector and many millions of families and individuals, and to plant economic recovery on a stronger base than delusional stimulus, the U.S. will enact President Nixon’s nightmare of “the pitiful, helpless giant.” Very few Republicans have raised such issues; it has been much easier just to throw grenades at the fiasco of Obama’s first two years. He thought he could improve the conduct of the world’s evil and mischievous regimes by pointing out that the U.S. was no longer governed by a white and traditional Judeo-Christian. He apparently thought he could create a self-sustaining economic revival by borrowing a trillion dollars and hurling it like spaghetti at the hobby horses of the Democratic leaders in the Congress. Neither initiative has succeeded, and all indications are that the administration lacks the intellectual originality to produce a solution to the economic impasse, or to cobble together a workable foreign policy. Nor is there any sign that Mr. Obama has the cynical agility of Bill Clinton, who,  after he was trounced in the midterm elections of 1994, changed course 90 degrees and ran as a New Democrat, i.e., a Republican, thereafter. And the country was not facing a fraction of the problems then that it is now.

Out of the Republicans who become prominent this fall must come the next president. This regime could durably inter any notion of American leadership, much less exceptionalism, if allowed to flounder through six more years, and the Palin-Romney crop is not a patch on crisis management of the Lincoln-FDR, or at least Nixon 1969–72, scale that is now required. The presidential selection process has not elevated appropriate people since 1992, the presidency having been capably or even brilliantly occupied for the previous 60 years, except for the Carter interlude. This sequence is becoming extremely dangerous. Among those who should be looked at closely, assuming their success next month in most cases, are Governors Daniels, Christie, Barbour, and Whitman; Senators Toomey, Rubio, and Thune; and Congressman Ryan. The offices must seek two of those or a handful of other people, and those who are chosen must be ready. A critical hour is approaching, but little of the puerile backbiting of this campaign would lead anyone to realize that, or to be optimistic that anything useful was going to be done about it.

– Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom and Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full. He can be reached at cbletters@gmail.com.

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