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A funny thing happened on the way to the Kerry election
By Bruce Walker
The parallels are eerie. John Kerry is a patrician from the Northeast, whose party feels that the upstart opposition is due to gain power. The incumbent is a plain spoken man from Flyover Country, whose very state is synonymous with grit and gumption. Polls show the rich Northeasterner winning, providing that he does not do anything wrong.
Sure, the world is facing very serious problems, but people are tired of the party in power, tired of the President, tired of fighting those who are undeniably bad people. "Coast to victory" his well-heeled friends tell the Northeastern former prosecutor "and take no unnecessary chances."
Under the surface, Americans were thinking to themselves. The memory of a deeply beloved and recently dead American President, a man who had virtually dominated American politics for more than a decade and carried America through a global war to victory, was still fresh in the minds of many Americans.
Likewise, the failures of the incumbent were quietly balanced by the American people against the grim history still fresh in the minds of everyone. Churchill, after all, had failed miserably in much that he did before he became Prime Minister and he had failed in many actions as war leader against Hitler.
Churchill wanted to leave RAF fighter squadrons in France (which would have been a disaster.) He felt that the "soft underbelly" of Europe would decide the war (which it did not.) Churchill sent Prince of Wales and Repulse to Singapore, when the absence of air cover doomed both capital ships. Churchill tried to take Dakar from the Vichy forces, and failed disastrously. Winston Churchill probably failed more than he succeeded in the Second World War.
FDR had failed at Pearl Harbor, failed to adopt the convoy system until America suffered appalling losses, failed to defend the Philippines, failed to reinforce Wake Island, failed to have the right tank design even three years into the war, failed to estimate Japanese naval air power (though he had served Wilson in the Department of the Navy), failed to judge Stalin - indeed, Roosevelt had failed much more than he had succeeded.
But both men fully grasped the important facts. Hitler and the Third Reich were evil and dangerous and capable. Imperial Japan was determined to dominate the Orient and perhaps all of Asia, which would have incalculable consequences for anyone who treasured the Judeo-Christian ethic of love and humanity.
Like Lincoln, Churchill and FDR succeeded in the big picture. Slavery, aggression, brutality and institutionalized savagery could not coexist with freedom, peace and compassion. Just as Lincoln as often led the Civil War badly as he did well, so did Churchill and FDR. The same could be said of the Father of America, George Washington.
Washington was a good general, but not a great general. During most of the Revolutionary War, he was losing the war for the new nation. But he had determined that ultimately he would win. That determination was decisive and Americans understood this salient fact when the war was won.
Lincoln, like Bush, is facing the great inconvenience of a scheduled reelection campaign in the middle of a war for the survival of the Republic. Lincoln, like Bush and like Truman, was considered by the rich, established nabobs of the Northeast to be a bumpkin from the frontiers. McClelland was smooth, rich, accepted in salons, competent, and amoral.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the election of President McClelland in 1864 and to the election of President Dewey in 1948: plain spoken, purpose driven, persistent leaders won reelection and carried the nation through tough times. It will happen again. Just watch.
Something else happened, which no one really expected in 1864 or 1948: the political party of the President also won a smashing victory. After the 1864 Election, Republicans had a 42 to 10 majority in the Senate and a 145 to 46 majority in the House, both much more than the prior Congress. Democrats in 1948 recaptured both Houses of Congress, gaining nine seats in the Senate and eighty-five seats in the House.
That, too, will happen again. Americans grasp that our nation is at a pivotal point. We will either survive or we will not. This is the challenge America faced in 1864, in 1948, in 1980 and in 2004. The 1980 election was the defeat of an incumbent who did not know evil when he saw it facing a man who fully understood good and evil and consciously chose goodness.
Americans understand the risky nature of risks; American accept that being good and being popular around the world are not the same thing; Americans know disagreement is not disaster. Americans forgive mistakes, but Americans want leaders to lead and they want the direction in which we are led to be toward a grand moral purpose and not the daily drivel of dull details.
President Bush, simply lead us. We will follow. Ask the ghosts of Washington and of Lincoln, of FDR and of Truman. Ask the Gipper, who is most surely in Heaven now. Lead: lead us and win a great victory.
Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.
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