What if it works?
We’re talking about the troop surge. Really. What if attacks, bombings, injuries, deaths, all decline precipitously in Iraq in the next two years?
And what if the John Bolton-engineered sanctions against Iran continue to work? What if the surge and the change of tactics that help in Iraq also do more to destabilize the state sponsors of terrorism in Iran who have placed so many of their eggs in the anti-American basket? And what if the U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf make an impression? What if the large number of pro-American youths in Iran get emboldened? In short, what if a series of circumstances lead to having Mr. Evil Ahmadinejad deposed?
What if, meanwhile, the American public finally starts giving President George W. Bush credit for the economy that has been doing so splendidly for about four years now?
What if, as seems increasingly likely, the jury in the Scooter Libby trial decides that Libby is not guilty? What if, on the other hand, Harry Reid’s questionable real estate transactions continue to stink to high heaven, and what if, as expected, Democratic Rep. William “Cold Cash” Jefferson of Louisiana is indicted and then convicted for various financial misdeeds? What if, in short, it is the Democrats and not the Republicans who get blamed for having a “culture of corruption”?
What if President Bush gets a chance to appoint yet another Supreme Court justice, and he chooses someone equally as impressive as Samuel Alito and John Roberts, and the Democratic leadership tries to block the appointment but end up caving because public pressure on them gets too strong?
What if the Senate Republicans, under the canny leadership of Mitch McConnell, actually start to be guided by, and to communicate, serious, conservative ideas? What if the Republican backbenchers in the House, people like Mike Pence, somehow shame their leadership into getting a clue?
What if somebody of the high caliber and brilliance of the SEC’s Chris Cox, or with the combination of communications skills and genuineness of Tony Snow, steps in to the presidential race and unites conservatives around him? Or what if somebody already in the race, a James Gilmore or a Duncan Hunter perhaps, catches fire a la Jimmy Carter in 1975-76 and proves to be better at “connecting” with voters than anybody expects? (Or what if one of the front-runners for the GOP nod successfully allays all the doubts being expressed about him?)
What if the media get serious and successfully expose (again, but this time successfully) both the utter corruption and the breathtaking phoniness of Hillary Clinton? And what if they expose the phoniness of John Edwards, too, and the shallowness of Barack Obama’s ideas?
What if Karl Rove re-establishes his reputation as a political genius and designs a stunning political comeback for the president?
What if conservatives, and the congressmen who owe their elections to conservatives, begin more effectively to devote themselves to first principles and to communicating the same in a way that resonates at American kitchen tables?
Free minds and free markets, after all, really do lead to prosperity. Peace can be achieved through strength. The sum of good government, as Thomas Jefferson said, is one that is “wise and frugal [and that] shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor and bread it has earned.”
And order, as Russell Kirk always reminded us and as Rudy Giuliani proved in New York City, is an essential precondition for lasting liberty. And traditional values in the Judeo-Christian tradition, as M. Stanton Evans continues to remind us, are the wellspring of our civic tradition.
Conservatives need to reconnect with the mind of Madison, and the infectious ebullience of Jack Kemp, and the energy of the Republicans elected in 1994 to be congressional freshmen. And, not least, they need to recapture the courage of Churchill.
Conservatives well grounded in their own traditions will not scoff at all those “what ifs” as mere pipe dreams. Rather than scoff, they will roll up their sleeves and try to turn those “what ifs” into reality.
That’s what conservatism’s greatest modern champion, Ronald Reagan, always did. In 1980 the American economy was an absolute shambles of high unemployment, high interest rates, high gas prices and long gas lines, and high inflation, all at the same time; the Soviets were dominating Afghanistan; the Marxists were on the move in El Salvador and Nicaragua and Angola and Grenada; Americans were in the midst of being held hostage in Iran for 444 days; Moammar Ghadafi and Saddam Hussein were building terrorist-sponsoring dictatorships; and Communist Parties were making headway in Western European countries while the Soviets massed huge armies and weapons in Eastern Europe; and (horror of horrors) Teddy Kennedy was making what seemed to many at the time like a seriously achievable run for the American presidency.
And Ronald Reagan (on whose birthday I write these words) looked at all this and said, in effect: “What if we Americans remember our better selves and our highest principles and actually fix all these things?”
And the conservative movement of Buckley and Rusher and Tyrrell and Blackwell and Weyrich and Viguerie and Kemp and Friedman, soon to be bolstered by Jeane Kirkpatrick and William Bennett, and allied with Thatcher and Pope John Paul II and a union leader named Walesa, along with thousands of other conservatives who kept the faith, all joined behind Reagan and, yes, used their power to start the world over again.
If they did it then, so can we do it now. The better angels of our nature call us forth, and the job before us is hard but achievable. It is achievable, because we are Americans — Americans, under God.