I know I share the sentiments of many in the vapidity of the “audition” now in its thirteenth month that will ultimately decide who will succeed George W. Bush. Newt Gingrich had the right idea last year with his in depth sessions with Mario Cuomo to illustrate how a meaningful dialogue could produce real value for voters in a very short time frame, but no one was listening, so we are getting more of the same daily and nightly droning about who’s up, who’s down, who’s “going negative”, etc., etc., to the point that, no matter how hard one listens to the candidates themselves, it becomes very difficult to have matters of substance fight their way through. And I admit that I am still undecided on my support in the campaign, but I have given considerable thought to the criteria for selection. Even this has been no easy task for, as Charles Kesler of the Claremont Institute has noted, conservatives face a particular dilemma that they have not had to grapple with recently, which is to, in effect, reinvent conservatism for our times and then identify the most appealing messenger for the concept.
Why is this so? Well, primarily because the Reagan coalition that was fused among social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and Cold War hawks has been in part rendered obsolete by our victory in the Cold War and in part undermined by “compassionate” (read big government) conservatism as practiced by George W. Bush and the former Republican Congressional majority, as well as fractures in the conservative foreign policy establishment caused by the implementation of the Bush Doctrine. These divisions will not be healed overnight and the leadership for the transformation has not yet even begun to surface. And time is short because, as I have indicated previously, what we now see is what we get in November, and frankly I don’t see anyone on the scene who has thought long enough or deeply enough about the issues to lead this transformation. Remember, Ronald Reagan’s revolution began with the Goldwater campaign in 1964 and he had been formulating and honing his ideas for many years in dialogue with a number of policy advocates such as the Heritage Foundation, Arthur Laffer, et al.
Of one thing I am sure: this will not be a “post war election”, in the sense that there is a feel that the war and security issues will take a back seat to domestic issues, as David Brooks has suggested. He may be right that there has been a shift in values and there is little doubt that there is an attitude of “what can my country do for me?”, but one look at the recent crisis in Pakistan should convince even the most casual observer that we will still be a nation at war in a very dangerous world in January 2009, which means that my criteria number one for U. S. leadership in that world will be a person who will endorse the continuation, in whatever name is chosen, of a foreign policy very close to the Bush Doctrine.