Readers of this column are aware that several months ago we recommended Republicans find a way to draft James Webb as their candidate for the presidency next year, due to the fact that the contenders appeared to consist largely of bright, willing, eager midgets, technocratic midgets to be exact, but midgets still, at a time we need giants.
The one exception of course is the Man from Queens*. For the time being allow me to defer to certain colleagues on this page to discuss the pros and cons of Donald Trump’s emergence on the political scene, except to note that, of course, he is no technocrat; he is a salesman and a real estate developer, linked trades which, notwithstanding what American novelists, playwrights, editorialists, satirists, and statist bureaucrats have said, written, and done to them over the course of our nation’s history, are a key to our success as a Republic and a nation.
Supply responds to demand, yes, but supply also creates demand, and in a free society, that is the real genius that has allowed poor, misery-bound humankind to dimly perceive the gates to temporal happiness. It is a happiness that must be tempered by the awareness that it remains only temporal, but it is a hell of a sight better than the centuries, the millennia, of mass hunger that we are emerging from, maybe.
The midgets would all make fine cabinet members; they can, and should, apply their talents to reforms that are needed across the board in American governance.
Tax-cutting and school-reforming geek governors are important, crucial even, to the continued success of American government, for they relate directly to the two indispensable ingredients of freedom which are the roll-back of statist encroachment on Americans’ lives, and the principle that we are a nation of free men with free consciences.
A tax should be assumed to be illegitimate until proven otherwise, and education, it cannot be said too often, is not a federal responsibility. Schooling has got more expensive and less successful in forming civilized citizens in proportion with federal programs purportedly designed to make it better. Reforms in these areas should top the list of Republican priorities and keep-your-job-or-walk criteria for the cabinet members with responsibilities for doing what is needed.
Education and tax policy are not the only areas needing smart technocrats. There are others. There is no reason why a Republican secretary of this or that should not do what is needed by finding a way to get the feds out of it altogether, but in any case, these are assignments upon which patriotic techies who have earned respect as governors of such great states as Wisconsin and Ohio and Florida and Louisiana and New Jersey and Texas can employ their talents at the national level while demonstrating their devotion to our continued success as a free society.
That is what is demanded of them. It is a big deal. But it is not leadership at the presidential level.
Presidential leadership is made of sterner, higher stuff.
The last time the Republic found leaders who were made of the sterner, higher stuff was in the 1980s. In Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, the American people saw a generation, not a “new generation,” for they were men of considerable experience and maturity, but still, a generation, “born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to permit or witness the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.”
This goes beyond rethinking education or taxes.
Hence Ben Carson; hence Jim Webb.
When we suggested last summer Republicans consider drafting Webb, it was, admittedly, partly due to our license, as editorialists, to indulge in let’s-wish thinking as a way of reminding ourselves and our readers that in America, everything is possible, conditional upon free men doing something. Mr. Tyrrell and I were not facetious when in the past, we urged the party to consider drafting Boris Johnson, London’s able mayor and a likely future British prime minister (He is also a high-level amateur tennis player and shrewd chronicler of the sport.) At the time we recommended this, he, an American citizen, was head and shoulders above whoever the Republican Party was considering, which admittedly is not difficult when you are contemplating fields of midgets. The Hon. Johnson, however, is out of the running due to his political future in Britain.
Sen. Webb and Dr. Carson, however, are inextricably bound to America. They both already have given hugely to their country; they want to give more. Why not go the distance together?
The common denominator in the failed last three presidencies consists in the feckless ambition of the principals. They were men who were idle, by any significant standards. Yes, they had served in high office, but almost as a way to fill the awful, terrifying void they found inside their souls (and maybe minds?). They thought, hey, the presidency, why not, give me something to do. Ambition without purpose other than vanity is not even of the kind for which Brutus reproached Caesar.
The distinguishing characteristic of Carson and Webb is fulfillment. They are both men who, if they found tomorrow they were condemned by an incurable disease, would feel, rightly, they had done their work, and they had done it well, and they would be at peace. But they are healthy; indeed, they are men in what used to be called the prime of life, and in their respective experiences and the work to which they devoted themselves, they have learned far more about themselves, their country, their countrymen, and the way the world is and, with this, the meaning of life, than any of their known rivals.
The Democrats hate Jim Webb because he is the anti-Clinton in every conceivable sense. He reminds them that once they were a party that believed in America and its people, the party of Harry Truman, Henry Jackson, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Reuther, George Meany, Sammy Fishman, Fiorello La Guardia. He reminds them that in forsaking this heritage they sold their birthright.
But the fact is that Ben Carson has rather the same effect. The professional Republicans are of course officially a small government party and in this sense they do not boast as much as do Democrats of “public service experience” as being a qualification for president. Yet the fact is that they, just like the Democrats, are a party of lawyers and professional pols. They do not devote themselves to saving lives, as did Marine Lt. Webb on the field of battle and in the Pentagon (rebuilding the Navy) and Dr. Carson in hospital operating theaters.
Soldiering and doctoring are not ipso facto qualifications for the presidency. But is political careerism?
Since the Democrats hate Webb and are about to launch one of their vicious, hateful, campaigns of denigration against Carson with the help of a media establishment only too happy to oblige as he does not conform to its idea of a satisfactory African-American, it seems logical that only the Republicans, and not a third party, could find within its tent room for a truly anti-status quo ticket of Carson-Webb. But since this will take some getting used to, inside and outside the party, there is no time to lose. For this much, at least, we can be grateful for our ridiculously long presidential campaign cycles. At present, there is enough time for this strategy; it depends on the Republicans formally inviting Webb into their competition, Webb accepting, and then he and Carson jointly declaring that if either wins he will ask the other to be on his ticket, or declaring right away that one is dropping out in order to join the other’s campaign and work for his victory at the convention, followed by their joint victory in the electoral college.
Long shot? Can’t hurt to try.
We misidentified the geographic origin of Donald Trump in our editorial column today on the competition for the Republican presidential nomination. Mr. Trump’s birth borough is Queens, N.Y., and no one has sought to make controversy of it. Queens is also the home base of Mario Cuomo and his son Andrew, prominent New York politicians with whom Mr. T. has of necessity dealt. You can learn about many more Americans who are Queens originals by consulting the New York Public Library or information on this very topic that it makes available on the web, a handy contemporary technology that any future president will have to think about in relation to the national security. Some notable Queensmen and Queenswomen: Stephen Jay Gould, who, too, is obsessed with where people really are from; Sidney Poitier, who had a leading role in a famous movie about schools in New York that puts in perspective our current “education policy” questions; Woody Guthrie and his son Arlo, American folklorists (“This Land Is Your Land”); Rodney Dangerfield, a much funnier man than Governor Bush, who like him misses the respect he feels is his due; Robert Mapplethorpe, idiot; Phil Rizzuto, one of the Immortals; Louis Armstrong, the man who saved music from modernism, who lived near Corona Park which is next door to Flushing Meadows near where John McEnroe grew up and which he visits every year to chronicle — on air — the clash of the tennis titans at the U.S. Open tournament; and others, including Martin Scorsese, Malcolm X and a man with whom he quarreled — fatally — Louis Farrakhan. Alas, politics can get nasty. But John Coltrane is from Queens, as is Bob Cousy, so cheer up.
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