Bill Kristol’s editorial in the new issue of the Weekly Standard provides some historical perspective to conservative Republicans uncomfortable with the field of candidates, each one of whom falls short of Ronald Reagan in our eyes. But Reagan, Kristol points out, was an aberrational figure: “He was the only president of the last century who came to the office as the leader of an ideological movement.” By contrast with Reagan, “[t]his year’s GOP field is, in this sense, normal.”
Kristol doesn’t even imply that this normality might be a “snafu.” Rather, he seeks to reconcile us to the field, encouraging readers to think of “John McCain as our potential TR, Mike Huckabee as our potential FDR, and Mitt Romney as our potential JFK.” What about Giulianii? Though the burden of Kristol’s editorial is to overcome our nostalgia for Reagan, I would add that in the current field, Giuliani distinguishes himself as a great communicator, like Reagan himself in this respect. McCain strikes me more as our potential Eisenhower rather than our potential TR — the Eisenhower who as president regularly elicited the intense disdain of the intellectual founder of the modern conservative movement. Bill concludes his editorial with a twist worthy of O. Henry.
A consideration of the extent of the damage any one of the leading candidates might do to the conservative movement and to the Republican Party as its partisan level lies beyond the scope of Kristol’s editorial. This is a factor that conservatives rightly take into account in viewing the field, especially in the aftermath of the damage done by the Bush administration and the late Republican Congress to the idea of limited government. None of the leading Republican candidates harkens to constitutional principles in addressing the issues before us, but some are worse than others on this score.
On the Democratic side, for the moment, the situation is also normal (in the snafu sense). What is the snafu? The contest between Clinton and Obama reduces the Democrats’ identity politics ad absurdum. Noemie Emery captures the absurdity in “The wages of sensitivity.”
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