Rick Wagner Column December 11, 2008

Time for Republicans to find a new generation of principled leaders

Via con Dios, George, Karl  and John. While our friends, Mr. Bush, Mr. Rove and Mr. McCain have offered gallant service, the time for political torch-passing has come.

It’s interesting, though, to note the different starting points for these three men and the common ground they came to occupy.

President Bush wanted to do good deeds and be liked, but world events, hard choices and an inability to articulate the reasons for his decisions undermined that possibility.

His administration seemed filled with policy contradictions and he never seemed to have learned that you cannot make opposing politicians cooperate with you by supporting policies your base dislikes. It is a remarkably quick way to end up without any support whatsoever.

Mr. Rove, on the other hand, is undoubtedly a genius at constructing campaigns and reading interest groups. From the outside it appeared that he had reached his maximum level of inefficiency when he began to participate in policy formulation.

That process is not a time for multilayered analysis and cross-tabbing opinion polls to link up parts of the electorate. Instead, it requires a direct connection to the people that seems to be removed from Mr. Rove’s area of expertise.

Einstein could have told you how your car worked, but you probably wouldn’t want him driving it.

President Bush had a strong adherence to a few principles and a lack of commitment to many others. Rove, the architect of the president’s electoral victories, began to fill in the blanks of these policy considerations.

The result was a messy conglomeration of positions calculated to attract certain groups of voters without realizing that some overarching political philosophy was needed to combine them into a loyal and useful unit.

Bush won in 2000 because he was not Gore and won in 2004 because John Kerry turned out to be, well, John Kerry.

Rove understood this early in both the campaigns and worked at highlighting the internal inconsistencies and conflicts of the Democratic candidates on numerous issues while showcasing George Bush’s steadfastness on a few.

Voters decided it was much better to have a leader on whom they could rely for a few decisions rather than one who was so politically spongy he didn’t seem to know why, if or when he supported something.

Such was the worn-out landscape that was left for the next Republican nominee, a topography that had more in common with the remnants of Sherman’s march to the sea than rich soil yearning for the plow.

And so the Republican Party went in search of a strong voice that would articulate a dynamic and inspiring vision of a proud nation.

When the dust settled, the last man standing for the GOP was John McCain, a good man but one who defined much of his life by rebellion and who arrived at the nomination as much by others’ misadventures as his own efforts.

McCain most often rebelled against authority, and in politics that means your own party. This was widely applauded by the left-leaning chattering class.

By the time McCain realized the media infatuation with him had been a reflection of the adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend and not true appreciation, it was too late and the press had pulled him apart like an overcooked goose.

There was too much ground to gain and McCain’s last best chance, the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, was squandered by an inability to understand a candidate of direct action as opposed to resistance.

We now find ourselves with a leader of such mystery and inexperience that failed policies of 70 years past seem shiny and new. We hear the crash of rhetorical thunder but see little chance for the lightning of deeds.

McCain can take comfort in the fact that even with vastly greater headwinds, his defeat was not on the scale of Nixon’s crushing of McGovern and he remains one of the most personally brave men ever to seek the office.

For conservatives the time to find first principles, not pointless compromise, has arrived. 

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong, which can be reached through the blogs entry at GJSentinel.com.


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