WASHINGTON — In the weeks ahead I shall be in Europe to speak on American politics. What will I say to old Europe? Well, I shall give them my broad view of American politics and end with the present election cycle in which I believe Barack Obama will be retired to private life, though he cannot really conceive of private life. He will continue his public life as he has for all his adult life. That is how Democrats live. He will be a community organizer to the world, as Bill Clinton has become in the words of MSNBC, “President of the World: The Bill Clinton Phenomenon.”
Both sound ridiculous, but do any Democrats ever retire to private life today? They are always taking on noble causes, which is to say illusory causes. Harry Truman retired to private life and Lyndon Johnson, but not Bill Clinton or Al Gore or for that matter Jimmy Carter. The other day Jimmy wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times saying we had lost the drug war and he was now smoking while listening to the Grateful Dead unto death. Perhaps he is not listening to the Grateful Dead and possibly he is not smoking marijuana, but I lost interest at about the third sentence. He might well have said almost anything. He has been latching onto fads for thirty years, anything that will keep him in the ink. The reflective life is not for him. It might cause him to become aware of what a miserable president he was.
His miserable presidency is key to any summation I make of current American politics. The standards of leadership have declined abysmally, especially in the Democratic Party. In its upper tiers there is not a person who could match Truman, Adlai Stevenson, John Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, to say nothing of Roosevelt II. The 1960s generation — the Clintons, Gore, John Kerry, et al. — were a bust. They quite possibly set the stage for an even more inferior generation led by Obama. Think of it! From Carter to Obama the Democrats have led a motley string of trivial figures onto the national stage.
The Republicans have done markedly better. Richard Nixon, though flawed, led the opening to China, a tremendous achievement worth revisiting for those who have forgotten, and they can do it by reading Henry Kissinger’s new book, On China. What is more, Nixon and Kissinger managed affairs with the prickly Soviet Union remarkably well, until along came Ronald Reagan to finish the job without firing a shot. Reagan was a giant (known to Liberals as a bumbling clown), and the two Bushes that followed him did not do badly either. They were in the tradition of Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, prudent stewards of American interests.
That brings us up to this election cycle. At any other time, Obama would be challenged from within his party. Teddy Kennedy challenged Carter, and I anticipated Hillary Clinton doing so this time, but now she cannot. Obama will run and lose to the Republican nominee, but who will the Republican be?
Before the summer is out, Mitt Romney will pull ahead of Obama by 10 points. But that will not give him the Republican nomination. He will have to fight for it. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann will make a terrific race of it, pulling most of the Tea Party vote. If the Tea Partyers are as energetic as they were in 2010, she has a very good chance. Then there is Tim Pawlenty. His policies are sound and even exciting in this time of near bankruptcy, but he has no natural constituency. People forget that Ronald Reagan did not search out his constituency. It had been building for years. He was strong in 1976 and overwhelming in 1980 based on his support from the Tea Party movement of his day, the conservative movement. Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul are all looking for a movement, and I do not think they will find one.
Then there is Governor Rick Perry. By the end of July we shall know if he is running. I think he will. Can he line himself up with the core of the Republican Party, which is still the conservative movement? It is made up of the religious right, the limited government types, the strong foreign policy advocates, and, for want of a better term, the Reagan Democrats. Well, he was a Democrat as was Reagan. He has governed a state and it possesses the most vibrant economy in the union. It also has enormous talent. It is the new California. This will be an exciting nominating process and a very dirty presidential race. A community organizer with union support vs. a statesman (or stateswoman), but we all know who is going to win.