Way back in 1984 when the Cold War still raged, the re-election campaign of Ronald Reagan ran an ad that cautioned, "There is a bear in the woods. For some people, the bear is easy to see. Others don't see it at all. Some people say the bear is tame. Others say it's vicious and dangerous. Since no one can really be sure who's right, isn't it smart to be as strong as the bear? If there is a bear.…"
Of course, this ad referred to the ongoing threat of the Russian bear, but it pointed out a vital truth about the electorate of a self-governing nation that grows ever more important by the day. When things are going well, as they have in America for most of her history, it is easy for voters to go with their hearts and ignore the harsh realities of the world around them. But faced with severe problems, particularly economic ones, elections take on far more consequential importance.
And the 2012 presidential cycle is one of these times. Should the nation decide to grow up and face the hard questions, they will realize that we face a new bear, one that represents those who would see the American people serve the government, instead of the other way around. This new bear cloaks himself in the mantle of hope and change; words designed to lull them into thinking that he is a cross between Smokey Bear, a stern authority figure who is respected by all, and Winnie the Pooh; the snuggly little fella who distributes dollops of honey to his adoring friends. Of course, he is neither of these.
There are three types of voters in this country: those who see the bear as a threat and want him defeated, those who don't see him as a bear at all, and those who see him but think he's a cuddly teddy bear. Most commonly, these would be classified as conservatives, liberals and the all-important independents. The war for the soul of this country has mainly concentrated on these middle-of-the-roaders who, in 2008 gave the teddy bear a chance, but by 2010, started to notice his growl.
And that's how this field of GOP contenders should be evaluated: who are the candidates that will appeal to these three classes of voters and how successful can they be in changing the electorate's perceptions of the bear? So here is my take on those who participated in last week's debate on CNN.
Ron Paul: This diminutive congressman has some great ideas, but is the Republican equivalent of Dennis Kucinich. Taken together, they are the yin and yang among those who populate our college campuses, and that's about as far as their appeal will take either of them.
Mitt Romney: Despite what he says or does, dyed-in-the-wool conservatives just don't trust him. No matter that he has followed in the footsteps of Reagan and George H.W. Bush as a convert to the pro-life movement, his left-leaning comments on global warming and the whole Romneycare debacle render him unattractive to those on the right. Naturally, this makes him a darling of the media who will push these attributes on those independents who are in their thrall. Here's hoping this backfires on the bear-appeasers and he actually proves us wrong by bringing some buckshot to the race.
Michele Bachmann: As a newcomer to national politics, she seemed a bit stiff and scripted in last week's debate, but she has the stuff that makes conservative bear hunters trigger happy. Being a woman who is not named Hillary will make it difficult for her to convince those who coddle the bear into thinking that a female could take him down.
Herman Cain: Mr. Cain's is perhaps the most interesting candidacy, and were he not a self-made African-American conservative, the press would probably have given him much more attention, à la Ross Perot. But since his fresh face and fresher ideas are a real threat to the bear, the press will crush him like a grape. Even so, teamed up with say, Santorum, this would be a ticket truly loaded for you-know-what.
Newt Gingrich: The former Speaker of the House was once the ursine nightmare of the liberal crowd; as principled and ferocious a predator as the last American lion, Ronald Reagan. Subsequent and substantial changes in his personal life seem to have produced a kinder, gentler Newt; one more amiable to certain and unwise compromises with the left. Still one of the most erudite spokesmen for conservative ideals, a less confused Newt surely possesses the firepower to defeat the bear; but will independents follow him and can Republicans forgive him?
Tim Pawlenty: Now, Gov. Pawlenty may be the nicest guy in the world and may indeed be a true conservative, but his repetitive boasts that he was a union member can't help but remind me of similar claims from Dick Gephardt; the only man in America to admit that his father was a milkman. As another candidate who bought into the whole global warming canard and one who is frightfully dull, the teddy bears would have a field day teaming him up with their favorite front-runner; for no one would fear a ticket of Tim-Mitt.
Rick Santorum: A man so hated by the left, that Googling his name still produces a filthy neologism cooked up by deviant homosexuals This is a man who has fought the domestic and foreign bears head on, tooth and claw for years, so much so that he was defeated by a "pro-life" Democrat who was deemed more cuddly by Pennsylvania voters. To liberals and their media minions he is the devil incarnate, and he will, no doubt be portrayed as such in the coming campaign. Only a strong dose of reality will make the nation see that he is the best antidote for the poisonous bite of the bear.
To each free nation on the face of the Earth, comes a time of momentous decision, a time for correcting her course or choosing another. For the United States, that time has come. A wise man once wrote: [W]hen a long train of abuses and usurpations…evinces a design to reduce [the people] under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.
Only American voters have the power to decide their future; only they can decide whether or not the bear in the woods is a threat to their freedom and cherished way of life; if there is a bear.