Back in 1987, when he was campaigning for President, one of George H. W. Bush’s advisers suggested that he back off from spouting minutiae to the electorate and spend some time focusing on the big picture, So that he could better sell himself to Americans. According to contemporaneous reports, Bush, Sr., was not impressed:
“Oh,” said Bush in clear exasperation, “the vision thing.”
Bush went on to win the 1988 election, despite his failure to articulate a vision for the American people. He didn’t have to engage in inept abstract fumbling to endear himself to voters. What he understood, consciously or unconsciously, was that Reagan had articulated “the vision thing” so beautifully that it covered, not only Reagan’s own administration, but Bush’s election efforts as well.
It helped, too, that Reagan passed on to his Vice President a roaring economy and a country that still maintained at least the gloss of an American identity. Back in those days, even though I was only just out of law school (meaning I’d spent the previous 19 years in academia), I’d never heard of political correctness, community activists, multiculturalism or Howard Zinn. I called myself a Democrat and had never heard of a Progressive. Although these ideas were making serious inroads into American education in the 1980s, those of us who cast our votes in 1988 were still relatively untouched by the revamping of America’s self-image. Nobody needed to tell us who we were, because (probably thanks to Reagan) we already knew.
Things are quite different as we head toward the 2012 election. America is in a deep economic morass, college students and Communists are rioting in the streets, Europe’s economy is collapsing, China’s economy is shrinking, and the Middle East is a more-seething-than-usual cauldron of antisemitism and anti-Western hatred. Times such as this would seem to cry out for a strong managerial hand. It ought to be Mitt Romney’s moment. After all, he radiates wonkish competence.
And yet Mitt Romney is not the conservative candidate of choice. Instead, he’s the conservative candidate of “we’ll take him if we can’t find anyone else.” If you look at the alternatives, the ones who have risen and then fallen, all have one thing in common: they’ve got “the vision thing.” Mitt is disciplined, effective, intelligent and decent, but he’s not a visionary — or, if he is, his rhetorical skills are too weak to convey that vision to the American people.
Mitt’s problem is that not all of America’s current wounds can be measured with economic charts and analyses about our friends and enemies abroad. Both Barack Obama’s presidency and forty years of relentlessly Leftist education and media saturation have severely damaged America’s sense of self. As a nation, we no longer have a unifying vision. Our children have been raised to think that we are now and always have been a racist, imperialist, overbearing, heartless, capitalist monster that preys on weak, victim-class individuals and helpless third-world nations. The fact that readily available facts put the lie to this ideology doesn’t help these children and young adults. Instead, when the Leftist ideology that dominated their education meets the facts on the ground, that clash creates a paralyzing cognitive dissonance. The result sees the members of Generation ZZZZZ marching through the streets, grimly clutching their iPhones and computers, whining about student loans incurred at fancy Ivy Leagues, and hysterically protesting against corporations and banks.
America’s impaired sense of self pre-dates Obama’s presidency. Indeed, it was this pre-existing psychological damage that put Obama on the path to the White House. He made Americans feel good about themselves, not in traditional terms (individual liberty, melting pot strength, world bastion of freedom, etc.), but in wonderful New Age terms: we were all going to come together in a giant kumbaya circle, and throw our ill-gotten capitalist gains into a giant, village style collection bin set up in the heart of Washington, D.C.. Then, the Capitol, under Obama’s magical aegis, and with help from a supportive Democrat Congress, would lower the seas, clean the air, cause the lion (and myriad polar bears) to lie down with the lamb, and generally bring about an environmentally perfect socialist utopia. If you liked fairies and unicorns, Obama was your man.
Back in the 1950s, had a candidate spouted this utopian vision, he would have been laughed off the national stage. A generation raised on Depression and War was a bit too sophisticated to buy into political fairy tales. Back then, Americans knew who they were: tough survivors; a free people who, at the cost much American blood, had brought that freedom overseas; and innovators. They did not believe in pixie dust. This latest generation, however, raised on self-loathing, needed a fairy tale, with the kiss of a handsome prince magically making everything better. To many, Obama was that prince.
The Obama fairy tale, sadly for his followers and sadly for this nation, did not end with the kiss and a formulaic “they lived happily ever after.” Instead, we’ve had almost three years of utopian reality, which has been remarkably painful. Obama and his crew have offended our allies, pandered to our enemies, presided over the break-up of a stable (although always ugly) Muslim Middle East, destroyed our gains in Iraq, presided over the longest recession in our history since the Great Depression, increased our debt and deficits to previously unimaginable limits that will burden our children and grandchildren, laid the groundwork for destroying the best medical system in the world (and that’s true despite inequalities in the systems), handed over billions of taxpayer dollars to cronies, killed American citizens with bizarre “crime fighting” plans across our Southern border, increased racial divisiveness to a level not seen since the early 1960s, and generally left Americans prey to a doom and gloom that seemed inconceivable when they elected the magical unicorn man.
What Americans feel now is despair. Or as Jimmy Carter might have said, malaise. Democrats are stuck with Obama, but Republicans have the opportunity to select a candidate who will articulate a core American vision. As our desperate search for the anti-Romney shows, we don’t just want a competent, clean-cut wonk; we want someone who bring to life a unifying vision of this nation, not as some sort of post-American socialist paradise, but as an entirely American bastion of freedom and opportunity.
For all his baggage and, yes, periodic political instability, Newt is that spokesman. The breadth and depth of his knowledge, his cheery demeanor, his up-beat campaign, his wit and erudition, his scary deep understanding of how Washington works, and, above all, his manifest love for America — all of these things promise voters an alternative vision to Obama’s 2008 “kumbaya world” or his 2011 “everybody is evil and stupid except for me” world. It helps that Newt’s skeletons, rather than hiding demurely in closets, are out dancing merrily in the streets. Everything about him will be hashed and re-hashed, but it will all be old news. To the extent there are “surprises,” they will be mole hills, not mountains.
In this lost and confused time, Americans need a clarion voice. If Romney is the chosen Republican candidate, I will happily vote for him, as I believe he will be a perfectly decent candidate, able to un-do much of the damage Obama and his cohorts caused at home and abroad. But Romney is not a clarion voice, and Newt is. It’s that “vision thing” that explains why I think Newt will win the 2012 Republican nomination — and take the White House too. America didn’t need it in 1988, but it sure needs it now.