Gilmore Makes His Case - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Gilmore Makes His Case

One of the few true conservatives in the 2008 presidential race also has a resume far more impressive than is generally recognized, and a quiet toughness that at least has a chance of making him a real player in the race.

Consider, first, the impressive background of former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III. Born in Richmond, he graduated from the University of Virginia and then joined the U.S. Army as a counterintelligence agent in West Germany, speaking fluent German while trying to ascertain where and how the Soviet bloc might attack if the Reds ever did try such a thing. He returned stateside to U. Va. Law School, then served as a private attorney while building the Republican Party (including service as county chairman) in Henrico County. He was elected Commonwealth’s Attorney there twice (the first Republican, he says, ever re-elected to any countywide post there), and then moved up to state attorney general while George Allen was governor. He was elected to succeed Allen, and kept his word to cut automobile taxes despite intense pressure from the Washington Post and others to the contrary. He also did a good job keeping spending in check, and successfully convinced the state legislature to dedicate ongoing lottery proceeds to education rather than letting it be lost in the state general fund. He also produced a very strong pro-life record.

Meanwhile, he polished his already solid party-building record, while putting his gubernatorial prestige on the line mid-term, to elect Republican majorities in both houses of the state legislature for the first time in state history.

Of tremendous significance, he also chaired the Congressional Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction (the eponymous “Gilmore Commission”), which, less than a week before the Sept. 11 terrorism, sent to the printer what turned out to be a highly praised report whose recommendations would have been of great help in response to the attacks if there had been time to implement them. He also chaired the Congressional Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce, which under his leadership surprised most observers (but pleased most conservatives) by recommending against taxation of the Internet. And he served as chairman of the board of advisors of the Air Force Academy.

He also briefly served as chairman of the Republican National Committee, to mixed reviews. Some conservatives say he was not as effective there as he had been in other jobs; others say that he did just fine but, as a governor accustomed to giving orders rather than taking them, that he was not willing to be a “yes man” to presidential guru Karl Rove.

SO HERE’S A GUY WHO CONSISTENTLY wins elections, builds his party, is experienced in foreign intelligence, is well-versed in technology issues, cuts taxes, has puts large numbers of criminals in jail, and is generally acknowledged as an expert against terrorism. Not bad; not bad at all.

There’s more: “First of all, he’s a man of integrity: I think his character and integrity are above reproach.” So said Will Bryant, Virginia Secretary of Education under Gilmore and now associate director for management at the Peace Corps after serving in high posts in the Bush Department of Education as well. Bryant, an African American, also praised Gilmore’s outreach to the black community and added: “He’s sincere. He is fair in his dealings. And he is very methodical. When he goes into any situation, he’s very prepared for it. He is very prepared to be President of the United States.”

Ah, yes, president. What does Gilmore himself say that he offers for the nation’s highest office?

“I am a conservative that people can count on. I am very concerned that spending is out of control that we continue to overspend in the United States….You are seeing more and more and more pressure on taxpayers that are having to pay for all kinds of systems, Medicaid particularly….We need an entrepreneurial society that gives people a chance to be more self-sufficient and to create wealth so they can have financial independence.”

On national security, Gilmore repeatedly and convincingly (and creatively in a good sense) discusses that issue in tandem with energy issues. Greater self-sufficiency on that score, he suggests, will help keep the United States from being as easily held hostage to foreign interests. He says we need to go all out on all fronts: “Nuclear, coal, gas, oil, ethanol, biomass, and also there has to be some grasp of how we use energy. More public discussion about how we use energy to find ways we can conserve energy [by economic choice rather than through heavy regulation].”

But there is another aspect of Gilmore’s message that he raises repeatedly and fervently, making a point that well needs to be made: “When I served in the Army during the Cold War, nobody had any doubt who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. We were the good guys….We were seen as people who wanted to reach out a helping hand….We need to recapture the moral high ground. There is a sense right now that it is debatable that we are the ones on the moral high ground and we need to make sure we are the ones planted there. We have to make sure that people around the world understand that we have their interests at heart.”

He went on to explain that the United States does not need to stop insisting on its own national interest, but to do a better job explaining to the rest of the world that “We can protect our own national interest without threatening others as well.”

Gilmore advocates tough border enforcement. He advocated school vouchers when he was governor. He equivocates a bit on whether he would support private accounts in Social Security. He likes the new media and promises to blog from the Oval Office. He does not shy from clear (but not nasty) criticism of his main opponents as insufficiently conservative. And he insists that firm adherence to, and advocacy of, conservative issues is a political boon that expands rather than limits the pool of potential supporters.

“It is not just conservative that care about the kitchen table issues and the quality of life issues that I talked about….We will win [voters in] the center if we address their economic issues and convince them we will protect their interests. Independents are concerned about these and are concerned about the security of our nation….Conservatives address these issues better than anyone else.”

ONE QUESTION, THOUGH, IS WHETHER Gilmore is the right salesman for the task. His rhetoric and style both are straightforward, low key, not tremendously inspirational. On the plus side, though, he comes across as credible, solid, trustworthy.

Will that be enough to beat Hillary Clinton?

Conservatives I’ve spoken to (privately) in the past few months seem to see Gilmore’s performance as governor as solid, but not dynamic. Workaday, not tremendously innovative. At least reasonably competent.

Of course, to the Washington Post, which trashed Gilmore’s record a few weeks back when he announced his probably candidacy, none of that is praiseworthy. Government wasn’t big enough or active enough under Gilmore for the Post‘s tastes.

Then again, there was a time when that sort of record would have been the ideal for mainstream conservatives. There’s something comfortingly 1950s-ish about Gilmore, not in the sense of being behind the times but in the sense of personal style and values.

“I am what I am,” Gilmore told conservative bloggers last week.

And what he is, is exactly what he appears to be. That’s a virtue. Conservatives looking for a presidential candidate could definitely do worse.

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