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Champion wanted: No experience necessary

By Lawrence Henry
web posted February 25, 2002

We've got Dan Quayle. We've got John McCain. We've got a Bush and a Dole. And we've still got conservative bickering over issues, leadership, and "greatness," which indicates one thing to me: We have no champion. I do not mean "leader." I mean "champion."

Consider: No mere leader could have uttered the phrase, "The Evil Empire," let alone made it stick. Certainly no conservative leader now could unfurl a banner like that without making himself (or herself) a laughingstock. Thus the nostalgia for Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, thus the desperate longing in the last pre-election cycle for the low-rent Eisenhower, Colin Powell.

So how do we get a champion? What will he (almost certainly not she) espouse, believe, and do?

To the first: We can't create a champion, morph him from existing models, or construct him piece by piece from focus group data. Champions emerge, spring full-blown from the head of some political spirit, are anointed, appear, then define everything around them. Nobody really understands how it happens. The Bible itself tells three different stories about the appearance of King David.

So we can't make it happen. We can only wait and make ready. Take heart, however. We will recognize it when it does happen. That's part of the definition.

As to beliefs, positions, issues, all the things we argue about now, imagine yourself a candidate contemplating the following Chinese menu of conservative stands. Choose one from Column A and two from Column B. Be ready to run on these issues and to talk intelligibly about the rest. But make your choice.

In a campaign, there is simply no room for any more than three.

Column A: Social
Limit immigration/free immigration
Ban partial-birth abortion
Support a Constitutional amendment to reverse Roe vs. Wade
Establish official English
Restore school prayer
Enact school choice
Pass a new Religious Freedom Restoration Act
Limit judicial activism

Column B: Economic
Support free trade/support some form of protectionism
Lower taxes
Replace the current income tax with a flat tax
Replace the current income tax with a consumption tax
Eliminate Federal agencies
Reform the tort system
Reform Social Security
Reform Medicare/Medicaid

I have not even included all the issues, as you see. That doesn't matter. No one can run and win on all of them, not even on most of them -- only on no more than three.

A champion, however, could run on almost any three issues and make them work. Plus, he could quiet conservative grumbling about the rest, because he'd win. Then we could get a lot of other things done.

What has brought us to this pass? Two things: Newt Gingrich's success in getting a conservative Congressional majority elected, and Bob Dole's failed Presidential candidacy.

Mr. Gingrich, for all his brilliance, is much like an inspired garage entrepreneur who brings a wonderful idea to market, then finds himself incapable of running the company that sells it. In business, he'd be replaced by a competent and trained manager. In our current situation, he should go back to another garage and have another wonderful idea. We could use it.

Bob Dole, a fine and decent man, ran for President as the last lineal descendant of old-style Republicanism. His candidacy was a purge. The Republic Party has now become a conservative party. We've paid our dues.

All non-conservatives (of whatever stripe) had just better get out of the big tent. It's big, but it's not that big, and we've got business to do.

So bicker away, conservatives, but realize what we're doing. Call it a nostalgia for Morning in America, call it Next Year in Jerusalem, but know what's going on. We're waiting for a champion. And, when he comes, we'll know him by some defining action. In Mr. Reagan's case, there were two: In the campaign, his pithy challenge, "Are you better off today?" took President Carter right between the eyes. In office, he busted the Professional Air Traffic Controllers' strike and showed foreign and domestic Philistines that he really didn't care what they thought or said.

When he appears, a champion will make us smile. We all have our fantasies.

Here are some of mine:

"The United States will not attend the upcoming conference on climate change. There is no such thing as global warming."

"I have today issued an executive order instituting a temporary peacetime draft, with the aim of enlisting a million men -- and I mean men -- in our armed forces."

Or (firing up a stogie in the Rose Garden), "My fellow Americans, the smoking lamp is lit."

Lawrence Henry is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.

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