Where Is The Republican Vision?

In a Los Angeles Times op-ed from January 2004, famed liberal historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., wrote the following:
The president of the United States, wrote Henry Adams, the most brilliant of American historians, "resembles the commander of a ship at sea. He must have a helm to grasp, a course to steer, a port to seek."  The Constitution awards presidents the helm, but creative presidents must possess and communicate the direction in which they propose to take the country. The port they seek is what the first President Bush dismissively called "the vision thing."
One of the most striking features of last week's Republican presidential debate was the near total lack of "the vision thing" among the assembled candidates.  Only John McCain offered a clear reason for electing him president:  to wage war against Islamic terrorists and to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.  As McCain explained: 

"I want to be president of the United States to defeat our enemies and to work with our allies.  I want to lead this nation. . . . I'm prepared to take on the greatest challenge of our time, and that's the specter and threat of radical Islamic extremism, which threatens our very values and our very life."
No other candidate offered a similarly passionate explanation for why he should be elected president.  Well, other than Ron Paul, who pretty much wants to do away with the federal government as it presently exists.  While such ideological flights of fancy may appeal to a certain type of voter -- and even contain some kernels of truth -- Paul's "libertarianism" is not a serious political platform for the Republican Party in 2008.

As for the other candidates, they all, more or less, mouthed the "correct" Republican positions on Iraq, taxes, abortion (except Giuliani and, to a lesser extent, Gilmore), stem cell research, and the various other items, mostly trivial, that the moderators decided to ask about.  But holding "conservative" positions on a set of discrete issues is not the same thing as possessing a real vision for the future of America, let alone offering a practical political program for achieving it.

This lack of vision spells trouble for the Republican Party in 2008.  The American people, on both the left and the right, are dissatisfied with the state of the country today.  They do not want to continue along the same course we are on, whether the issue is Iraq or immigration or health care or the family or [fill in the blank].  They are going to want their next president to speak in terms of "change" and "reform."  The candidate who is best able to harness this mood and attach it to a coherent political program is going to be our next president.

Of course, we know the kind of political program the Democrats are offering: a further expansion of the socialist welfare state at home and a withdrawal of American troops and influence from abroad.  Republicans are in denial if they fail to acknowledge that these positions appeal to a large segment of the American voting public.  But there is another large group of voters out there who are open to, indeed yearning for, a "conservative" alternative to the standard liberal agenda.  They want less government, more patriotism, stronger families, secure borders, and cultural renewal.  Frankly, it is not clear which voting bloc is larger.  Based on the 2004 returns, I believe the "conservative" bloc remains slightly larger.  For how much longer, who knows?

Unfortunately, none of the current Republican presidential candidates is offering a clear vision, backed by a comprehensive political program, designed to appeal to these conservative-oriented voters.  No one is proposing a "Contract with America" or an "ownership society" -- a bold, principled plan for moving our country in a direction other than the same broadly liberal trajectory in which we have been heading for the last 40 years.  Simply pledging to reduce taxes for working families is not enough, as most Americans already pay few federal taxes.  Abortion, while important, is not an issue on which a successful presidential campaign can be built.  Campaigning on Bush's Iraq policy won't be enough either.

Republicans must think and act in bigger, more fundamental terms.  Broadly speaking, in addition to maintaining a strong defense posture, this means opposing the socialist welfare state and advocating greater individual freedom and responsibility for economic, health care, and retirement decisions; proposing meaningful reductions in the size of the federal government; securing the nation's borders and significantly restricting immigration; and challenging the continued degradation of our national culture, including the effort to drive religion out of the public square.  Large segments of the American public support these positions.  Enough to overcome the Democrats' essentially selfish, and self-righteous, appeal?  Maybe, maybe not.  But if Republicans are not willing to offer a meaningful alternative to the contemporary liberal agenda on the most important issues of the day, what is the purpose of the party?

The bottom line is that if Republicans do not offer a compelling conservative vision for America, rather than just a series of issue positions, they will have little chance of winning the White House in 2008.  Based on last week's debate, there is a palpable vision deficit among the current crop of Republican presidential candidates.  It still is early, of course.  My advice to the candidates is to go home and think long and hard why the American people must elect them president in 2008.  If they cannot answer that question in convincing fashion, they should get out of the race, or be prepared to lose.                 

Steven M. Warshawsky is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.
In a Los Angeles Times op-ed from January 2004, famed liberal historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., wrote the following:
The president of the United States, wrote Henry Adams, the most brilliant of American historians, "resembles the commander of a ship at sea. He must have a helm to grasp, a course to steer, a port to seek."  The Constitution awards presidents the helm, but creative presidents must possess and communicate the direction in which they propose to take the country. The port they seek is what the first President Bush dismissively called "the vision thing."
One of the most striking features of last week's Republican presidential debate was the near total lack of "the vision thing" among the assembled candidates.  Only John McCain offered a clear reason for electing him president:  to wage war against Islamic terrorists and to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.  As McCain explained: 

"I want to be president of the United States to defeat our enemies and to work with our allies.  I want to lead this nation. . . . I'm prepared to take on the greatest challenge of our time, and that's the specter and threat of radical Islamic extremism, which threatens our very values and our very life."
No other candidate offered a similarly passionate explanation for why he should be elected president.  Well, other than Ron Paul, who pretty much wants to do away with the federal government as it presently exists.  While such ideological flights of fancy may appeal to a certain type of voter -- and even contain some kernels of truth -- Paul's "libertarianism" is not a serious political platform for the Republican Party in 2008.

As for the other candidates, they all, more or less, mouthed the "correct" Republican positions on Iraq, taxes, abortion (except Giuliani and, to a lesser extent, Gilmore), stem cell research, and the various other items, mostly trivial, that the moderators decided to ask about.  But holding "conservative" positions on a set of discrete issues is not the same thing as possessing a real vision for the future of America, let alone offering a practical political program for achieving it.

This lack of vision spells trouble for the Republican Party in 2008.  The American people, on both the left and the right, are dissatisfied with the state of the country today.  They do not want to continue along the same course we are on, whether the issue is Iraq or immigration or health care or the family or [fill in the blank].  They are going to want their next president to speak in terms of "change" and "reform."  The candidate who is best able to harness this mood and attach it to a coherent political program is going to be our next president.

Of course, we know the kind of political program the Democrats are offering: a further expansion of the socialist welfare state at home and a withdrawal of American troops and influence from abroad.  Republicans are in denial if they fail to acknowledge that these positions appeal to a large segment of the American voting public.  But there is another large group of voters out there who are open to, indeed yearning for, a "conservative" alternative to the standard liberal agenda.  They want less government, more patriotism, stronger families, secure borders, and cultural renewal.  Frankly, it is not clear which voting bloc is larger.  Based on the 2004 returns, I believe the "conservative" bloc remains slightly larger.  For how much longer, who knows?

Unfortunately, none of the current Republican presidential candidates is offering a clear vision, backed by a comprehensive political program, designed to appeal to these conservative-oriented voters.  No one is proposing a "Contract with America" or an "ownership society" -- a bold, principled plan for moving our country in a direction other than the same broadly liberal trajectory in which we have been heading for the last 40 years.  Simply pledging to reduce taxes for working families is not enough, as most Americans already pay few federal taxes.  Abortion, while important, is not an issue on which a successful presidential campaign can be built.  Campaigning on Bush's Iraq policy won't be enough either.

Republicans must think and act in bigger, more fundamental terms.  Broadly speaking, in addition to maintaining a strong defense posture, this means opposing the socialist welfare state and advocating greater individual freedom and responsibility for economic, health care, and retirement decisions; proposing meaningful reductions in the size of the federal government; securing the nation's borders and significantly restricting immigration; and challenging the continued degradation of our national culture, including the effort to drive religion out of the public square.  Large segments of the American public support these positions.  Enough to overcome the Democrats' essentially selfish, and self-righteous, appeal?  Maybe, maybe not.  But if Republicans are not willing to offer a meaningful alternative to the contemporary liberal agenda on the most important issues of the day, what is the purpose of the party?

The bottom line is that if Republicans do not offer a compelling conservative vision for America, rather than just a series of issue positions, they will have little chance of winning the White House in 2008.  Based on last week's debate, there is a palpable vision deficit among the current crop of Republican presidential candidates.  It still is early, of course.  My advice to the candidates is to go home and think long and hard why the American people must elect them president in 2008.  If they cannot answer that question in convincing fashion, they should get out of the race, or be prepared to lose.                 

Steven M. Warshawsky is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.