Isn’t it a bit early to discuss presidential candidates for 2008? Hardly. Presidential years are increasingly telescoped. Even though there’s almost three years left before President Bush leaves office, in philosophical terms the next election is almost upon us. Both parties are beginning to pick their favorites and destroy their adversaries.
Who do the Republicans have to carry on with after George W. Bush? Despite carping from some of his own supporters, Mr. Bush still Republican won two terms. There are many Republican hopefuls for Mr. Bush’s job, but few are truly suitable. The model is not Mr. Bush or his father but the icon, Ronald Reagan, even though Mr. Bush has valiantly tried to fill those bronzed boots.
What will it take to be an effective president beginning in 2009? Indomitable courage and sophisticated cunning to fight enemies, both foreign and domestic. The war against a fanatic Muslim reawakening will test our mettle as nothing since Pearl Harbor. That struggle is just beginning and despite irrational, destructive Democratic isolationism — a reversal of traditional party roles — there is no way back.
The new Republican presidential candidate must be agile, quietly brilliant, intuitively political, a cross between Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan — overwhelmingly charming and deceptive enough to achieve our national goals without anyone seeing his lips or his fingers move. Who’s waiting in the Republican wings that fits that description? Few, if any.
At a recent confab of Republicans, the wanna-be presidents strutted their wares, most inconclusively. There is, of course, Majority Leader Bill Frist, an able and intelligent man who fits few of the criteria. Then there is George Allen, smart and trustworthy, but not the skilled operator needed to save the world — at least one more time. George Pataki is kind, experienced and also not up to the job. Mitt Romney offers a shade of difference from the pack, but not enough.
So how does one choose the right man? C. Northcote Parkinson of Parkinson’s Law fame had the answer. For every impossible job — as per Winston Churchill or FDR in World War II or Reagan in the Cold War — there is only one person who fits the bill. He called it a short list of selection. The times are so challenging that a prospective candidate might best be described, in caricature, by a help-wanted ad for the job.
“Wanted: A president of the United States. Must be willing to work 110 hours a week, setting aside time to fight the light heavyweight champion of the world before lunch. He must be anxious to suffer psychic torture by daily watching Oprah and Katie Couric on television in the Oval Office, then be interviewed by Mike Wallace — all the while conducting four simultaneous wars throughout the globe as commander in chief. Must be willing to face editorial demonization by the media, tussle with congressional opposition including threats of impeachment from Sen. Russ Feingold, while dealing with Cabinet officers being discharged for corruption. He must be able to handle a low 20 percent approval rating without losing heart or his natural optimism. Most important, the president must be willing to die in office as a symbol of his dedication to the American people, a love affair that will not be requited until 30 years later. Apply Box 101, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W., along with a non-refundable deposit of $10 million.”
Who among the contenders would be courageous enough to respond to such a daunting ad? Only one: Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Why? Is he so hopelessly ambitious to suffer indignity for his personal goals?
Perhaps, but more important, he seems to be the only one who has that in-born authentic patriotic spirit that requires him to sacrifice for this nation. Plus he seems to have the sense of destiny, shared by Washington, Lincoln, FDR and Reagan — that he is the only one of his time capable of the onerous job of a president under shattering fire.
Besides, after years of torture by the communists in the Hanoi Hilton, he has already survived the test of the constant attack he will have to undergo as president.
Not everyone loves Mr. McCain. He has made some mistakes along the way, including running against George W. Bush in the 2000 primary, then insulting the religious right, a vital force in the Republican Party.
Liberals are tantalized by him, but they fear his anti-abortion and low-tax stand. Others are wary of his constant agenda of reform in lobbying and campaign financing and his strong anti-pork views.
But most of Middle America trusts him. As for the media, who have sharp teeth for any conservative, it would be hard for them to demonize a wily John McCain as they have Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney.
In summation, Mr. McCain is the only presidential candidate possible for the Republican nomination. And as a plus, he is the only one who can defeat any candidate the hapless Democratic Party can put up, especially Hillary Clinton.