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Cheer Up! By: William Kristol
The Weekly Standard | Monday, October 15, 2007


Republicans are downcast, depressed, and demoralized. Bush is unpopular. Cheney is even more unpopular. Scandals continue to bedevil congressional Republicans, and it's hard to see the GOP taking back either the House or Senate in 2008. History suggests it's not easy to retain the White House after eight years in power (viz. the elections of 1960, 1968, 1976, and 2000). And the Republican presidential candidates seem problematic, each in his own way.

Meanwhile, the Clinton coronation proceeds apace. Normally sensible commentators discourse on her Hamiltonian qualities and on today's liberals' Burkean ways. (If Hamilton and Burke weren't so used to having their memories misappropriated, they'd be spinning in their graves.) The American people, it's presumed, are too befogged by the mainstream media to see through pathetic Democratic stunts like rolling out a not-poor 12-year-old to read a radio script making the case for government-provided health insurance for allegedly poor children. And then Al Gore wins the Nobel Peace Prize. It's too much to bear.

Well, fellow conservatives--grin and bear it. And cheer up! After all, among other recent American winners of the "Peace" prize were Jimmy Carter in 2002 and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War in 1985. These turned out to be pretty good contrarian indicators for how the American people would vote in the next presidential election--to say nothing of what actually produces peace in the real world.

In that real world, conservative policies are working fine, and liberals are providing little in the way of alternatives. The Bush tax cuts have been thoroughly vindicated: National wealth is up, unemployment is down, and the federal deficit is lower than the day the 2003 tax cuts were passed (though the Bush administration seems incapable of explaining any of this). The Republican-passed Medicare prescription drug benefit is working well and coming in under cost. And does anyone lament the fact that the last big Democratic idea--HillaryCare--failed to become law? Would American health care be better off if Republicans had rolled over and let it pass?

On the Hill, we're about to have a big debate over eavesdropping and wiretapping--areas where Bush's policies have kept the country safe, and helped foil terror plots abroad too. The Democrats haven't figured out that they are being led over a substantive and political cliff by the ACLU. Bush's two Supreme Court appointments are turning out to be exemplary--the Court should be a big issue in 2008--and Clarence Thomas's memoir is the No. 1 bestseller in America.

Have you noticed we're winning the war in Iraq--despite the assurances of Democrats, including their Senate leader, that the war was already lost? It's going to become increasingly clear in the next year that the problem with the Bush administration has not been too much force, too much strength, too much support for democrats abroad. The problem, especially in the second term, was too little of all these. Bush's first-term policies liberated Afghanistan and Iraq, convinced Libya to give up its nuclear program and Pakistan to stop proliferating, and inspired liberal, democratic forces in Lebanon and Ukraine. Passivity (outside of Iraq) in his second term emboldened dictators from Iran to Syria to North Korea to Burma. But the solution to the failures of the Bush administration is a reinvigorated conservatism, strategically grounded and competently executed, accompanied by a thoroughgoing conservative/neoconservative (Burkean/Hamiltonian!) reform of the institutions of the U.S. government so as to secure America's interests in a dangerous world.

The Democratic nominee looks likely to be either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Hillary is furiously triangulating (it's a family tradition), criticizing Obama for saying he'd meet with the Iranian mullahs and then saying she would, voting for a hawkish resolution on Iran then cosponsoring a dovish one. But even Bill's triangulation got him only 43 percent of the vote in 1992 and 49 percent in 1996--and in terms of political skills, Hillary's no Bill. Obama, for his part, seems no more experienced in dealing with serious affairs of state than Jimmy Carter did in 1975. Obama could conceivably follow in Carter's footsteps and get the nomination--but America learns from her mistakes.

That's partly because the GOP nominee will be stronger than Gerald Ford (with all due respect to the memory of that decent man, who would have been a better president than Carter). While a half-term senator and a one-term senator fight it out for the Democratic nomination, the GOP candidates include an experienced senator who's a war hero, the most successful political chief executive in recent times, an impressive businessman/governor, and a canny lawyer/senator/actor with Washington experience and a nice, middle-American background and manner.

Here's what's likely to happen: When the nominees are selected next year, the Republican will be behind--just as the GOP nominee trailed, at various times, in the 1980, 1988, 2000, and 2004 campaigns. Then the Republican will rally and probably win. Look to 1988 for a model: a tired, two-term presidency, a newly invigorated Democratic Congress causing all kinds of problems for the administration, an intelligent, allegedly centrist Democratic nominee, and a bruising Republican primary with lots of unhappiness about the field of candidates. This resulted in a 17-point early lead for Michael Dukakis over George H.W. Bush, but an eventual Republican victory. True, the current Republican incumbent, George W. Bush, isn't Ronald Reagan. And the 2008 Republican nominee is going to have to chart his own path to victory. It will be a challenge. But it's a healthy one. Let McCain, Giuliani, Thompson, and Romney have at it. The competition will be good for them and good for the party, ensuring that the winner will be up to the task both of winning the presidency and leading the country.




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