The Corner

Bold Visions and Historical Choice

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Dorothy Rabinowitz has what could turn out to be one of the defining commentaries of the year. She hopes Mitt Romney will show “a capacity to run a campaign not obviously dependent on the latest polls or the fears of consultants.” She urges him to avoid “the picture of hesitancy and political caution” that John McCain displayed in 2008, and instead emulate the “formidable, cogent, and relentless” Obama critic we see in John McCain today, “a man free of useless caution.”

Having observed several major political campaigns up close, and being a lifelong student of military history, I would take Rabinowitz’s point a step further: Caution can be worse than useless. One must always be careful, but that’s not the same thing. In any field of strategy, an overabundance of caution is usually suicidal. And in general, taking a risk-averse approach with you on the campaign trail is often the most reckless thing you can do. Of all of Napoleon’s vast treasury of sayings, perhaps the most famous is: l’audace, toujours l’audace.

And these are times that call for audacity. Our generation faces a moment of historic decision. Perhaps never in American history have two more different visions of government been so evenly pitted against each other for the people to choose. In one vision, government is the center of public life, and economic freedom is equated with a dehumanizing descent into “social Darwinism.” In the other vision, limited government, economic freedom, and self-reliance are essential for a society to be both successful and virtuous, while the entitlement state creates a dehumanizing descent into enfeebled dependency. Down one path lies the road to Greek-style perdition; down the other lies a chance for renewal and resurgence.  

Henry Kissinger once said that the essence of statecraft is to extract from the compulsion of circumstances an element of choice. From the people’s point of view, the same is true of elections: Their purpose is to give people a real historical choice. Historical choice is as elusive in democratic politics as it is in diplomacy. But the better our leaders succeed in framing the choice ahead in terms of a bold historical vision, the clearer and more historic the choice will be. So please: l’audace, toujous l’audace.

Contributing editor Mario Loyola is senior fellow and Director of the Center for Competitive Federalism at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. He began his career in corporate ...

Most Popular

Culture

Cold Brew’s Insidious Hegemony

Soon, many parts of the United States will be unbearably hot. Texans and Arizonans will be able to bake cookies on their car dashboards; the garbage on the streets of New York will be especially pungent; Washington will not only figuratively be a swamp. And all across America, coffee consumers will turn their ... Read More
National Security & Defense

The Warmonger Canard

Whatever the opposite of a rush to war is — a crawl to peace, maybe — America is in the middle of one. Since May 5, when John Bolton announced the accelerated deployment of the Abraham Lincoln carrier group to the Persian Gulf in response to intelligence of a possible Iranian attack, the press has been aflame ... Read More
NR Webathon

We’ve Had Bill Barr’s Back

One of the more dismaying features of the national political debate lately is how casually and cynically Attorney General Bill Barr has been smeared. He is routinely compared to Roy Cohn on a cable-TV program that prides itself on assembling the most thoughtful and plugged-in political analysts and ... Read More