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Saturday, December 03, 2011

A Lack of Leadership

What the 2010 elections and the 2012 primaries both tell us sharply is that having a vibrant grass-roots is not the same as having political leaders. Often when the base is boiling, that's when the party is unable to bring anyone to the table except the halfwits and leaders so uninspiring that no amount of hair pulling cognition can make you understand how they made it to the endgame.

After four years of Clinton, the only man that the party thought could beat him was Bob Dole. And yet you can hardly blame the voters when the lineup included stars like Steve Forbes, Phil Gramm and Lamar Alexander. While voter anger was hitting a peak, the party had nothing to offer them except the sort of candidates who probably couldn't have even won forty years earlier.

We're not as badly off today as we were then, even if our frontrunner is the House Speaker from back then, but we're stuck choosing between established candidates who aren't very conservative and conservative candidates with little experience or poor electability.

The Tea Party was half the equation, a grass roots movement setting the tone and providing the boots to promote change. But the other half of the equation, the political leaders who can actually move the agenda forward are still missing. And they have been missing for a very long time now.

Reagan was in some ways a fluke, merging political savvy and conservative beliefs with the training of a radio announcer and movie star. Finding a man or woman who can merge all three is a real challenge, but we're having trouble finding even one out of three.

Television and video have created a hunger for striking and inspiring leaders that the political classes can't fill. JFK was virtually bred for the task with a prominent and powerful family building a myth around him that would likely not have survived had he not been assassinated. Clinton was a charming and a pathologically dishonest state governor from a state that had never sent a governor to the White House. Obama was dug up under strange circumstances on the margins of Chicago politics.

Republicans naturally should have looked to the charismatic governor of a major state, but they came up with rather few candidates, aside from Christie and Perry. Both are plausible candidates, but neither of them were very conservative. That left Pawlenty as the Lamar Alexander candidate and Romney as the likely candidate, with everyone else scrambling to be the Anti-Romney candidate in a political demolition derby.

What the derby revealed is that the new conservative media that has sprung up to counter the mainstream media is very eager to turn on actual conservative candidates for its own entertainment and that few of the candidates who can survive a mistake or two are likely to be very conservative. And none of them are particularly inspiring.

The reason for that is that the country really has no conservative party, it has a party that fills that role because it hasn't found a better one. The Republican Party isn't conservative out of principles, it's conservative by default. It's conservative because the Democratic Party has seized all the progressive ground leaving it with no choice but to fight a rearguard action against its insanity. The further left the Democratic Party has pushed, the further right the Republican Party has found itself driven, not because it is genuinely of the right, but because the cultural battles has created a sizable national demographic of people who want to fight for conservative cultural and economic values.

The Republican Party has never been comfortable with its newfound base, it is more comfortable discussing free trade agreements and tax cuts, than spending cuts and social values. It has a sizable number of politicians who can do both, but it has an equally sizable number of politicians who think that the party would be much better if it was a social club for the Chamber of Commerce and the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Tea Party makes them uneasy, and they don't like the people "clinging to their bibles and guns" anymore than Obama does. They know the value of finding a base and appealing to it, but they wish there was another base that they could appeal to. Pragmatic people who understood the value of free trade agreements as combined with cap and trade under a big federal package.

For every liberal Republican who reinvented himself as a Democrat, there are dozens who have stayed in the party while bemoaning what the party has turned into, and while they are a minority on election day, they are certainly not a minority in the mechanisms of the party and in deciding who gets moved up the ladder.

The ideal presidential candidate is a man or woman who exemplifies the principles of the party and connects them to the lives and values of ordinary Americans. That is what the Democrats did with Obama, turning him into a representative of their vision of multiculturalism and progressive politics. It is unlikely that whoever runs against him will be able to do the same thing, in no small part because the Republican Party lacks the same clarity of principles that their opponents have.

Aspiration is inspirational. In 2008 the Democrats presented Obama's rise to power as an expression of the American Dream. Over the past years, what his rise has really demonstrated is how that dream has been hijacked and perverted into a mockery of itself. But the best way to fight that isn't with a denunciation, but with an alternative.

Some saw that alternative in Cain, his business experience as an authentic alternative of aspiration. Some see it in Perry's Texas roots and business growth. And some see it in Gingrich as the happy warrior against the left. But none of them have really embodied it or expressed it, and the alternative is Romney.

Romney is the gray man. The man who expresses the party's ambitious shiftlessness, its lack of principles and its conservatism of complacency. Romney challenges no one and perturbs no one. He is the embodiment of a different kind of American dream, where everyone gets along and men in suits handle everything. It is how the country actually was run, but it's inspiring to absolutely no one.

The professional class of the Republican Party is a reality, but it's not inspiring to anyone. Romney's only real platform is the one that I saw on a plumber's van in Brooklyn. "Do it yourself and then call us." After the progressives and the Tea Party have had their shot, the man in the three-piece suit will step forward and fix the leak. It's an appealing image to many liberal Republicans who think that their party has been hijacked by extremists and lunatics, but it's at odds with the reality that the country's problems were created by the moderates.

It is the moderates who chose to ignore the consequences of the spending tsunami, who compromised their way out of every political quarrel with barrels of pork, and who will compromise their way out of this one with the same product, even when it's their bipartisan spending that is at the root of the problem.

Change is the one thing that everyone agrees we need and it's the one thing that Romney can't offer. The moderates don't want change, they want everyone to stop yelling, go back to their corners and think about how we can work out another agreement that ignores the problem but breaks the deadlock. And yet we need change. We have compromised from one disaster to another and moderated our way into immoderation.

The Republican Party has been lagging behind its base for a while now, and as its politicians make their half-sincere efforts to catch up and all sorts of people jump on the grass-roots bandwagon, the challenge is to sort them out in order to find leaders.

Leaders are not only good speakers, they are people with principles, but similarly they are not deeply committed, they are capable of communicating that commitment to others. A leader does not simply believe, he embodies that belief and turns it into a vital force that holds a compelling appeal. That appeal will have its limits and the best leader wields a balance of deep principles and broad appeal.

Rome wasn't burned in a day and Washington D.C. won't change in a few years. We did a lot in 2010 and we can hope that what we do will bear fruit in 2012, but whatever happens this election, we have to look to the work of the future. There is a limited time frame in which the country can be turned around and doing it at the political level will require leaders. Not simply people with principles who can't function on the big stage or established politicians who will say anything for a two percent rise in the polls. Leaders.

People like that do exist, though they can be hard to find. Florida found a former lieutenant colonel who in the normal state of affairs would probably never have run for office. Once upon a time California found a former movie star. There are people like that all around us outside the political class. They have talents, they can speak and they have firm beliefs that they can communicate. But many of them have never thought of running for office.

If the Tea Party or any conservative grass roots movement is to be effective, it will need to find those people and support them. That's not an easy task, the last two years remind us that not everyone who speaks well or says the right things or is a political outsider is also going to be a good candidate... but that is also part of the process.

The political class have created this disaster and they cannot be expected to get us out of it, at best all they can do is slow it down and buy us some time. And if they can do that, then we can use the time to replace them.

8 comments:

Lemon said...

Tea Party is silent lately, doing nothing.
Candidates are clones of one another.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Lemon. The Tea Party seems pretty quiet. Not sure if they've been drowned out by OWS, if they're active the media isn't covering it, or what. But it feels like the big push up to the 2010 elections has fizzled. In any case, the biggest swath of American voters are Indepedents and most of them will not go for politicians or policies that are too conservative. And without Independents, it's difficult to win major elections. Not sure what the answer is...

Cheryl S. said...

Oh my gosh Daniel, This is the first time that I've ever disagreed with you!
Have you listened to Rick Santorem? He is a rock solid conservative who was beating that conservative drum beat from the beginning.I love that guy! And, Michelle Bachmann as well would make a stellar president.
With either of them in office, I would be able to breathe easier for the first time in decades.
You made mention of Chris Christy. Well, I live in New Jersey and it is, by far, one of the highest taxed and one of the worst sanctuary states in the country! It is being suffocated by its illegal population and Christy remains silent and continues to do nothing. The only thing going for Christy is that he's not Corzine.
I am pleased with most of the GOP candidates and certainly they would do abundantly better than the disgrace that occupies the Oval Office presently.

careyrowland said...

This is nice, Sultan, but the intersection of reality with your idyllic parameter is shaping up to this: Newt.

mindRider said...

Only one man with an across the spectrum savvy & character to beat Obama would be the lieutenant colonel from Florida.

Marcel said...

'The political class have created this disaster'

It's evident that those who assume to be king makers forget who really has the ultimate power in this game.

You secular folk can't ignore God for mush longer because He's the one dashing your plans.
Old man Job had this wisdom that seems to be hidden from the political idol makers of today who keep going bust.

America's turning her back on God has proved terminal and no one politician can turn the nation off the cursed road it has chosen.

The blessings have been rejected by the enlightened regressive's.

This is why God has given us the destroyer Obama to lead us..... to hell.
We are now at # 23b

Job 12
Who among all these does not know
That the hand of the LORD has done this,
10 In whose hand is the life of every living thing,
And the breath of all mankind?
14 If He breaks a thing down, it cannot be rebuilt;
If He imprisons a man, there can be no release.
He leads princes away plundered,And overthrows the mighty.
20 He deprives the trusted ones of speech,And takes away the discernment of the elders.

23 He makes nations great, and destroys them;
He enlarges nations, and guides them.
24 He takes away the understanding of the chiefs of the people of the earth,
And makes them wander in a pathless wilderness.
25 They grope in the dark without light,And He makes them stagger like a drunken man.

Anonymous said...

this is what the country has got. nothing. what we need is a ron reagan again. but he is dead. like the old song by simon and garfinkle mrs robinson, ''where have you gone jo dimaggio our nation turns it lonely eyes to you''

American Genie said...

Excuse me, Daniel, but Mitt Romney perturbs the hell out of me.

What I would like to know is what happened to John Bolton's possible presidential run? I was looking forward to him making mincemeat of Obama.

There is your leader, Daniel. I have wanted him to run for years.

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