Which brings me to this question—what kind of leader can fill the role that America and the world need? Although many of us probably feel we have already heard enough presidential politics, at least in the unattractive style in which it is presented to us, it’s not too early to get a fix on those qualities we want in a successor to George W. Bush. I will spare you my final critique of President Bush until later, but, suffice to say, the low points of his term in office suggest that we will be looking for a much different type of leader, and that competence might very well be a leading theme. These things seem to run in cycles. I remember Michael Dukakis’ remark during the 1988 campaign that “this election is not about ideology, it’s about competence”, and how far off base he was in that perception at the time. For 2008, it may be a different story. In a recent article, David Brooks suggests we might be in the market for a wily, effective leader, one who has more of the cunning that our foreign enemies have exhibited, and a certain cleverness more than Gary Cooper-like simplicity and virtue. Rich Lowry of National Review thinks in terms of detail orientation, toughness, particularly in judgment of people, and proven management skills.
All of this is well taken and probably on point. But let’s not forget two very important considerations: first, when the new President takes office in January 2009, we will still be a nation at war with an enemy determined to seek out and kill as many of us as possible by whatever means and who represents a form of totalitarianism at least as threatening as those we faced and defeated in the 20th century; and second, as historian Paul Johnson reminds us, America will sometimes need to play Leviathan at the risk of blood and treasure when there is a void in the rule of law, and we do so because we are a country founded on idealism. And in that role, we are the indispensable nation. If we elect leaders who forget these points, competence won’t save us.