Friday, February 16, 2007

HOW TO PICK A PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE. Start Off by Asking Yourself Whether You’re an Idealist or Realist.

By Thomas F. Roeser

Another column from The Wanderer, the nation’s oldest national Catholic newspaper. Updated since publication.

CHICAGO—How tough will it be for Catholic social conservatives also critical of the Iraq war to pick a presidential candidate who (a) favors them on the issues and (b) can win? Very tough. To pick the right candidate, you should be able to peer into the wannabe’s souls and we aren’t endowed with that x-ray vision. But to arrive at a decision, the first step is to decide whether you intend to be idealistic or realistic on choice of your candidate.

Idealistic means you are willing to sacrifice winning for a principled candidate who will not waver. If this is what you’re looking for, perhaps the best choice of a traditional conservative, one opposed to globalism and yet supportive of conservative social policy, is Cong. Ron Paul, the Texas Republican. A physician, Paul is both pro-life and critical of the wholesale global interventionism that has characterized our foreign-defense policies under both parties. The downside: he is not ranked among the top contenders for name ID or funding. In fact, he has not just a miniscule chance but almost a nonexistent one to get nominated. And if nominated to get elected.

So, idealists will decide to support Paul for the Republican nomination-- and when he loses the nomination, go over to the Constitution Party. Founded by Howard Phillips, it will run someone with the same views as Paul. He very well might not win but for Phillips, principle is important; so it is with idealists.

If you are a realist who supports pro-life and the Bush initiative on the war, hoping we either win it or emerge from Iraq with honor intact, you have ten choices starting with The Big 3. They’re Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. After them come the Lesser Known 7—Sen. Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee, Tommy Thompson, Jim Gilmore, Cong. Tom Tancredo, Cong. Duncan Hunter and Newt Gingrich. All of them including the aforementioned Ron Paul were detailed in earlier Wanderer issues.

For realists who want to win, of the Republican Big 3, Giuliani, the former mayor of New York city now leads in popularity over major Democratic rivals. The average of major polls by the conscientiously accurate “RealClearPolitics” compilation, shows Giuliani tops all of the Democratic Big 3, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama. Giuliani leads Clinton 48.6% to 44.8%--a 3.8% spread. He’s ahead of Edwards with a 1.7% spread; ahead of Obama with a 4% spread. (Obama made a huge gaffe last week and may be less viable as a candidate in the future: see details below).

Giuliani, who is technically a Catholic but has been married three times, is pro-abort and pro-gay rights (though not for gay marriage) but has said he will appoint federal judges of the stature of Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito, who are strict constructionists and pro-life. If you can swallow all that and trust him, he’s your man. If not, go to the next choice as a realist—John McCain.

McCain, a Vietnam war hero, held as a prisoner of war for five years, has been married twice, is pro-life and is a hawk on Iraq; he’s running behind Clinton 45.8% to 46.6%, a 0.8% spread. He tops Edwards 45.0% to 42.8% with a 2.2% spread. He was slightly ahead of Obama (before the Obama gaffe) 44.6% to 44.4% a 0.2% spread. One matter has dogged him—whether or not the long confinement in the Hanoi Hilton has had an emotional effect on him. At least two fellow prisoners, one Jeremiah Denton, the Senator from Alabama, told me it has an indisputable effect—on him and on everyone else so incarcerated for a long time. Would this be an insuperable problem for a presidential candidate? Not unless it manifests itself in public.

Richard Nixon said goodbye to the paintings on the wall before he left the White House after his resignation; Jimmy Carter testified he was attacked by an enraged rabbit which tried to climb into his canoe which he beat off with a paddle. Abraham Lincoln told his law partner Billy Herndon that he had been so afflicted with emotional depression that there were times he couldn’t trust himself carrying a pocketknife, fearing he would commit suicide. The Bush people tried to hang that on McCain in the primaries of 2000 and it backfired.

A more serious problem for some: McCain has strayed often from conservative dogma. He co-authored the McCain-Feingold bill which conservative civil libertarians say eviscerated the 1st amendment in curtailing free speech. He voted against certain Bush tax cuts. He has dissented on our treatment of prisoners of war. Not particularly important. One is: If elected he will be 72, pretty old for the presidential game. A plus: if you want to be sure that we don’t lose the Iraq War and emerge with our honor intact, it’s a good bet your candidate should be John McCain. Still, if he’s not right for you, go to Romney.

Romney is pro-life, married but once, has been pro-abort before—only a few years before, as governor of Massachusetts and as Teddy Kennedy’s opponent. He’s a good manager, however. He’s an enemy of gay-marriage and with a wife with multiple sclerosis both she and he oppose use of embryonic stem cells. He just formally announced and is the least known of the Big 3, running 37.% against Clinton’s 51.7% , a Clinton edge of 14%. No polls have pitted him against Edwards or Obama.

Now the Lesser Known 7. Republican pragmatists with sole interest in winning say they can’t win the general election. The list starts with Kansas senator Brownback. He’s perfect on social issues but just came out in opposition to Bush’s troop “surge”. Former Arkansas governor Huckabee, a Baptist minister evangelizer, lost 110 lbs. to run but also hiked taxes. Tommy Thompson, a former Wisconsin governor, favors federal embryonic stem cell research, anathema to social conservatives; Jim Gilmore is a former Virginia governor and a good one but that was long ago, before George Allen, and Gilmore is a kind of vestige from the past.

Cong. Tom Tancredo of Colorado is a one-note Charlie, campaigning solely against immigration; Cong. Duncan Hunter of California, former armed services chairman, termed “right on all the issues” by a number of traditional conservatives including Phyllis Schlafly and Howard Phillips, has been called an earmark connoisseur. Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker, is brilliant but, Henry Hyde’s estimation, erratic.

Winning-at-all-costs Republican pragmatists tend to say, judging from the polls, that the ideal ticket for winning would be McCain for president and Giuliani for vice president, giving Giuliani time to burnish social conservative credentials and be ready to succeed McCain after one term when he will be 76. That doesn’t mean in this topsy-turvy world of politics any of the Lesser Known 7 can’t make it: it’s just not likely.

At the same time, the Dems’ Big 3—Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards-- may be cut down to the Big 2. Obama made a gaffe last week that could very well reduce him from a major candidate to a minor one when Lady Hillary’s surrogates (certainly not she herself) taunt him in Iowa and New Hampshire. And certainly by Republicans if he gets through the net. In a catastrophic stumble during a speech in Iowa last week, he said the Iraq war “should never have been authorized and should have never been waged and on which we’ve now spent $400 billion and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted [italics mine].”

Dismissing the lost lives of American troops during wartime as having been wasted ranks is just about the all-time most catastrophic statement a presidential candidate can make. Saying the dead have died in vain is not only opposite to Abraham Lincoln (with whom Obama wants to be compared), it is a lethal dose of strychnine from which no ordinary candidate could be expected to recover. If Obama can make use of his blackness to overcome his slur, he would be seen as a true political wonder-worker. Chicago’s David Axelrod, his media guru, should be promptly elevated to the canonical status of the all-time great cosmeticians, the Democrats’ Jim Farley who sold the patrician FDR as a regular guy and the Republicans’ Mark Hanna who packaged William McKinley, the pal of the Wall Street plutocrats as the workingman’s friend. .

But having specified these things, remember that politics is a sport that knows no rules. Seventy-five years ago the Democrats came to their convention in this town with a fist-full of conservative candidates for president including the Catholic Al Smith, “Cactus Jack” Garner the Texas speaker of the house and a residue of others including the ultra-conservative president of this city’s First National Bank, Melvin Traylor who stood up against a crowd demanding withdrawals of their money from his bank on the very day 37 other banks folded including the bank owned by the GOP Nobel prize-winning wonder-worker, Charles Dawes (Traylor agreeing to refund them and still saving his bank which got him national recognition).

It was two conservative Democrats, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph P. Kennedy who engineered a switch to a nice-speaking New York governor who impressed them as a moderate, get-along-go-along guy. And another conservative Democrat, Jim Farley, who got conservative Sam Rayburn to importune conservative John Garner to fold his cards and come out for a man whom Kennedy, Hearst and Farley felt was also a conservative in his heart. How wrong they were. Franklin Roosevelt changed the equation of politics forever with his economically radical New Deal.

Many years ago I interviewed Farley, Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign manager, a conservative Catholic who was buddy-buddy close to him. “We didn’t know the Chief at all, as it turned out,” Farley told me calling him by the name FDR most preferred. “He went into the presidency and immediately listened to the most radical advisers he could find.” Farley later quit over the third-term nomination and ran for president himself against his old boss, losing, of course.

There’s no way of discovering what a candidate will really do if and when he gets in. FDR was a revolutionary; Harry Truman, regarded as a conservative, pioneered national health care. Dwight Eisenhower whom people feared would get us into war because he was a general, wisely kept us out of Vietnam. John Kennedy, an isolationist’s son, got us into Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson, who was the errand-boy of Georgia right-wing segregationist Dick Russell, became the originator of the War on Poverty and patron saint of affirmative action. Richard Nixon the anti-communist tinkled wine glasses with Mao Tse Tung.

More: Gerald Ford who, if he knew anything, was supposed to understand defense policy like the back of his hand having served on House military appropriations for 25 years, unaccountably announced in a debate with Jimmy Carter that eastern Europe was free of Communist domination. Carter the Southern Baptist who taught in Sunday School that we should revere our ties with Israel because the Jews were chosen antecedents to Christians, ended up being called—as he is today by many Jewish leaders—an anti-Semite for criticizing undue deference to Israel in our foreign policy.

Still more: Ronald Reagan whom they said would get us into Armageddon with the USSR, didn’t but laid the groundwork for its dissolution; George H. W. Bush the former pro-abort who got the nickname “rubber George” (vernacular for male contraceptive) because in the House he was always introducing amendments to bills that would mandate federal monies for birth control devices to 3rd world nations, named the most definitively pro-life conservative justice to the high court—more conservative than even Antonin Scalia—Clarence Thomas. Bill Clinton, regarded as a southern moderate who in the 1992 campaign assailed radical black leaders like the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. and Sister Soljah, became revered by African Americans as the “first black president.” And George W. Bush?

Remember in the presidential campaign when he inveighed against “nation-building”? Now he sees our destiny as extending democracy throughout the world.

And so it goes. Good luck in making your choice.

1 comment:

  1. Call me realist. It's Giuliani for me. The commitment to judges in the mold of Scalia, Roberts, and Alito is the key. The real work for social conservatives is evangelizing the voters on these issues. There is a limit to what any Prez can do for their causes beyond that.

    Giuliani is perfect for the times.