Today's Republican party values candidates with a strong jaw, well-kept hair, deferential wives, and an absence of curiosity about world affairs.
Curiosity is dangerous. It leads to study, which reveals complications and nuance, all of which erode certainty.
Today's Republicans don't mind if their leaders are wrong as long as they are certain, they lead, and they don't apologize. Republican men who embody strength and family values never apologize.
If they make a mistake, the solution is to continue to make it, and thereby demonstrate resolve. To do otherwise would be "feckless," a right-wing poll tested word that chickenhawks like Dick Cheney like to apply to people who think before acting.
Two of the last three Republican presidents fit the mold of today's Republican party perfectly … Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. George H.W. Bush (Poppy Bush) less so.
Poppy Bush was curious about the world. He was a combat veteran of WWII, and had served as head of the CIA, ambassador to China, and the United Nations. He had a Secretary of State, James Baker, who believed that, "You talk to everyone, and that force is always a last resort." Poppy Bush was just not the kind of guy about whom the modern Republican party could get enthusiastic. He was challenged from the right by Pat Buchanan and lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton.
Reagan and Bush the Younger were more to the liking of the modern Republican party. Both were masters of delegation. They not only delegated work on problems of the day, but they delegated understanding what those problems were. They walked with that easy confidence that one has before he understands what the problems are.
Reagan, who occupies a special place in the Republican party, gets more credit than he deserves for successes occurring during his administration. Failures were quickly forgotten.
When he came into office, the country was experiencing rampant inflation that grew out of the Vietnam War. President Carter appointed Paul Volker as chairman of the Federal Reserve System, and Reagan re-appointed him in 1983.
Volker almost single-handedly broke the back of inflation, which ignited the 18-year bull market that began in 1982. Carter and Reagan can share credit for Volker, who is generally accepted as the greatest Federal Reserve Chairman in the 99-year history of the Fed.
In foreign affairs, Reagan gets a lot of credit for the fall of the Soviet Union. Much of that credit belongs with the Mujahideen that bled the Soviets dry in Afghanistan, and with Pope John Paul II, and Lech Walesa, who rallied the Polish people in resistance to Soviet domination.
Almost forgotten is that Reagan presided over the greatest one-day loss of life suffered by the US Marine Corps since Iwo Jima in WWII. On October 23, 1983, suicide bombers blew up the US Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 220 Marines and 21 other American military personnel.
The Marines had been placed in an indefensible position, and were saddled with rules of engagement that made it impossible to defend against a suicide attack. The positioning and defense of the barracks constituted a stunning lack of leadership and judgment by Reagan.
Reagan was on notice that the Marine barracks was a likely terrorist target. Six months prior to the barracks attack, our embassy in Lebanon suffered a suicide bombing in which 63 people lost their lives.
The Reagan administration expressed outrage at the "despicable" acts and indicated America "would not be cowed by terrorists." Four months after making these remarks, the Marines were gone from Lebanon. Ordered out by President Reagan.
Reagan was able to shrug off the destructive events of Lebanon in the 1984 election by making happy talk about Morning in America and Shining City on a Hill. It worked. He carried 49 states and people still insist he was a strong President who "made us proud."
GEORGE W. BUSH
When Karl Rove first met George W. Bush, he remarked that Bush had, "a lot of swagger, and more charisma than any one man had a right to have." He was also totally devoid of any curiosity about the world, which would make him an ideal candidate for a leadership role in the Republican party.
Shortly after George W. Bush took office in January of 2001, he was advised that the intelligence community had concluded that Osama bin Laden was behind the attack on the USS Cole on October 12, 2000, which killed 17 US Servicemen. Bush decided to treat it as not his problem, and declined to respond.
Throughout early 2001, the intelligence community was buzzing with indications that the threat from Al Qaeda was at an unprecedented level, and specific to an attack in the US. The absolute urgency of the situation was brought home to President Bush on August 6, 2001, when he was on vacation in Crawford, Texas.
The CIA personally delivered to Bush, at his ranch, a classified document known as the President's Daily Brief (PDB). The PDB for August 6, 2001 was entitled, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US." The entire document focused on the possibility of terrorist attacks in the US.
President Bush's response to the briefing was to continue his vacation for 24 more days, and, according to Ron Suskind's book, The One Percent Doctrine, tell the CIA briefer, "All right. You've covered your ass now." A little over a month after being explicitly forewarned, the Twin Towers were hit.
On March 13, 2002, a mere six months after the 9/11 attack, Bush appeared to have lost interest in Bin Laden, stating, "I'm truly not that concerned about him. I know he's on the run." It was clear that his inability to get Bin Laden quickly had become an embarrassment. Good ol' boys with swagger and charisma don't suffer embarrassment well. Somebody would have to pay.
The Bush solution: Slap some country around that had nothing to do with 9/11. That's being decisive. Who cares if it's a good decision? It's a decision. It's leadership.
Strange at it may seem, there are people in the Republican party who think George Bush was a strong leader. Most don't go so far as to say he was a good President, but a strong leader … yeah. He showed 'em.
Where do you start with Mitt Romney? In 2008, John McCain expressed his exasperation with Romney's evolving position on almost all issues by stating to Romney's face at one of their debates, "There's no doubt about it, Mitt. You are the change candidate in this election."
I look at Romney and see two prevailing needs: order and utility. Although he was in his twenties in the heydays of the sixties, he was very much a child of the fifties. He demonstrated in favor of the Vietnam War, but resisted the temptation to serve in it.
His penchant for order could be seen in his debates, both in the primaries and against Obama. He sort of made himself the super-moderator, explaining the debate rules to Rick Perry and overruling the actual moderator, Jim Lehrer, and telling President Obama that, "You'll get your turn." In the poker world, such a person is referred to as a Table Captain … it's not a compliment … not by a long shot.
Romney's orderliness (have you ever seen a more orderly family?) makes the story of a young prep school Mitt and a band of "regular" guys who forcibly cut the hair of an eccentric long-haired classmate believable. If the victim wanted to be long-haired and eccentric, he could be that somewhere else, but not at Mitt's prep school, where everything was regular, dependable, and orderly.
Mitt's story that he can't remember whether the hair cutting incident happened or not is an example of Mitt using his lawyerly utilitarian side … they can't prove you're lying if you say you don't remember.
In nearly every political office in this country, the office holder's responsibility is to lead and represent. The office holder must have principles so he can lead and point the way forward, but he also must adjust those principles so that he can be in harmony with what a majority of the people will accept. In other words, the leader of the parade can't get so far out in front of the band that he can't hear the music. The one office in the US that the occupant has a responsibility beyond leading and representing is the office of President of the US. The President must embody; the occupant of the office is the living embodiment of the country.
In England, the Queen is the embodiment of the country. She is the Head of State. She is not the Head of Government. That role is filled by the prime minister. Indeed, the Queen has virtually no governmental role. Many countries follow the English model of splitting the Chief of State and Head of Government functions.
Not so in the US. The President is the Chief of State, Head of Government, and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. He also is Consoler in Chief in times of national tragedy and Superintendent in Chief in natural disasters.
Voting for the occupant of that office is a hugely personal vote. It strikes at what it means to be an American. That's why a discussion about the relative merits of presidential candidates can get hot in a hurry. It's very personal.
Romney is betting that his well-documented history of embracing and discarding positions will not disqualify him from becoming President. He's hoping that the majority will view his history as indicating a certain amount of necessary flexibility. In my opinion, he's almost right. Almost, but not quite right. In my opinion, a critical mass of the American electorate will come to the conclusion that Mitt Romney does not embody the United States of America, and, that all things considered, Barack Obama does.
Barack Obama should be and will be re-elected.
Comments are welcome at tomc[at]wednesdayswars[dot]com. Name and town if you wish to opine. Comments will be addressed in subsequent posts.