Friday, March 14, 2008

No Big Picture Thinkers in Presidential Politics

In the course of offering advice as to how John McCain could jump start his campaign, Peggy Noonan suggests the following:

He has positions, but a series of separate, discrete and seemingly unconnected stands do not coherence make. Mr. McCain, in public, does not dig down to the meaning of things, to why he stands where he stands, to what understanding of life drives his political decisions. But voters hunger for coherence, for a philosophical thread that holds all the positions together.

That is true, but voters have not had that kind of choice offered by either party since Ronald Reagan. Mr. Reagan was the last politician to combine real world political engagement with a big picture philosophy of what it was really all about. He was the last serious candidate for President from either party who had spent much of a lifetime developing a coherent picture and dominant theme of the role of government.

Some of those who speak like this get accused of holding on to Reagan nostalgia, and certainly some of the politicians who have held themselves up as heirs to Reagan's mantel have done nothing more than play in to that. On the other hand, some of us who take seriously politics and public policy, as opposed to merely the gamesmanship, would love to see again a political figure who stands for more than his or her personal ambition and who is bigger than the consultants and image managers who privately brag that they create him or her.

We don't have that kind of candidate this year from either party. We have not had that kind of candidate for a long time. If one wonders why there is so much negative campaigning, one reason would be that there is really nothing positive to fire anyone up on either side. The biggest motivation for both liberal and conservative: the shared sense that we sure don't want the person on the other side to win.


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