The Envelope Please . . .
By Pejman Yousefzadeh Posted in 2008 | Endorsements — Comments (60) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
So I have taken my time in deciding which candidate I will endorse for President of the United States, but with the Iowa Caucuses coming up, it is indeed time for me to put up or shut up. Before I get to the candidate of my choice, it behooves me to discuss briefly a few of the other contenders.
There's a lot more below. A whole lot more. Read on . . .
First, there is Rudy Giuliani. His attractions are many. He is very smart, very serious and a significantly more disciplined as a candidate for President than he was as Mayor when many a time, his actions seemed frivolous in the extreme. I am impressed with his energy and with the fact that he has worked to master a lot of policy detail in making his run. I am certainly impressed with Giuliani's Justice Advisory Committee and I believe that the people he selected for the committee speak well of Giuliani's legal philosophy. And of course, Giuliani acquitted himself brilliantly in responding to the devastating 9/11 attacks. For his courage, for his calm leadership and for his heroism he has and deserves the nation's thanks and praise.
The downsides, however, are that Giuliani, for all of his heroism concerning the response to 9/11, has less foreign policy and national security experience than many other candidates. His Second Amendment stance as the Mayor of New York left a lot to be desired for supporters of Second Amendment rights and while his pro-choice sentiments are apparently unshakable, he could at least have appreciated and bowed to the surprisingly robust consensus that as a decision, Roe v. Wade was bad law. Some people are hung up with stylistic differences that they have with Rudy Giuliani. I have serious policy differences and while those policy differences may be subsumed in a general election contest, they are not subsumed in the primary campaign.
Mitt Romney is a bright and attractive candidate who has performed turnaround miracles in business. Unfortunately, he chose to turn off a lot of Republicans by pushing for mandatory health insurance in Massachusetts when he served as Governor--a program that has failed at controlling costs, a program that only serves to give Democrats a template with which to implement a disastrous universal health care plan and a program whose very mandatory nature is fundamentally antithetical to even the most minimal conceptions of liberty. The policy flip-flops are also disconcerting. While Romney claims that they were not made in preparation for this election and while his record as Governor of Massachusetts shows a distinctly conservative bent, one cannot help but wonder whether or not Romney changed his policies anticipating that soon after his service as Governor of Massachusetts, he would enter the race for the Presidency. In any event, it is hard to take seriously the supposed conversion to philosophical conservatism made by a candidate who in his 1994 race against Ted Kennedy sought to distance himself from the legacy of Reaganism. I realize that one has to make allowances for Republicans who run in Massachusetts, but at that point in time, being associated with Reaganism should have been a no-brainer for a Republican.
In addition, while Romney is a very bright businessman and while he is certainly conversant on policy matters, his intellectual curiosity regarding political issues is significantly less pronounced than it is on business issues. Romney is the person who as a young boy, when he saw the Rambler's his father's car company was producing and heard tales singing their praises, asked his father "If these cars are so good, why aren't they selling more?" A precocious and good question. Romney is also the same businessman who discovered the market potential of Staples by examining in minute detail receipts of other businesses and seeing just how much those businesses invested in office supplies. His intellectual engagement and attention to detail on that issues should be commended and turned out to be a very lucrative exercise for him and for his business partners. And yet, when Romney was asked for his position on the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill and about what he would do in the event that military action against Iran had to be contemplated, he begged off of discussing any details, saying instead that he would consult with lawyers. A former Governor of Massachusetts--and a potential President of the United States--should evince greater intellectual curiosity about legislation like the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, legislation which may cross Romney's desk should he become President. Romney certainly had a fair amount of legislation cross his desk as Governor. Was he as uninterested in the details of those bills as well? Additionally, a potential President of the United States should have a national security strategy clearly in mind and should know enough to know that decisions on national security matters can't be outsourced to lawyers with the intention of allowing Presidential candidates to avoid talking about those decisions and issues in depth.
As for John McCain, he has excellent foreign policy and national security credentials and his support for the surge in Iraq is as praiseworthy as it is well-founded. McCain is deeply honorable and a credit to the country. Unfortunately, he maintains big government attitudes on a number of issues, including and most notably, his continued support for campaign finance "reform" which constitutes nothing more--and nothing less--than an assault on free speech and extends the misguided and unfortunate legacy of the Supreme Court's 1976 ruling in Buckley v. Valeo. Free speech is a big deal and McCain is on the wrong side in a significant way.
I can nevertheless appreciate certain significant aspects of the Giuliani, Romney and McCain records. Mike Huckabee, however, has no redeeming virtues save a charming personality and a way with quips. His lack of substantive knowledge--especially when it comes to the issue of foreign policy--is stark and deeply distressing. He would need more on-the-job training than any of the other Republican candidates for President and a number of the Democrats would bring more experience to the table as well. In addition, Huckabee invites the Republican Party to go back to a protectionist, mercantilist platform when it comes to trade and his brand of populism only serves to do what Democrats have been accused of doing for years; promote and intensify class warfare. It is shocking and astonishing that Huckabee is actually a serious contender for the Republican Presidential nomination. One hopes that his appeal will soon peter out. It couldn't happen to a more deserving candidate on the GOP side.
Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo? Not serious, nativists, protectionists and just warmed-over Huckabees without the winsome smile. Ron Paul? An utterly impracticable choice in a world demanding serious people to deal with serious issues.
Alan Keyes? Give me a break.
My emphasis in this and other writings when it comes to political discussions has been on policy. I want a candidate who espouses small government, federalism, free markets, free trade, a brave and unabashed message of capitalism and consequential, weighty and creative solutions to the many foreign policy and national security dilemmas facing the United States.
That's why I am supporting Fred Thompson for President.
Start with the issue of policy substance. Thompson has loads of it, as this editorial makes clear. Thompson has made detailed and specific proposals concerning the issue of entitlement reform, oftentimes in the face of overwhelming and widespread political fears that to mention the need for entitlement reforms is to kiss one's chances at electability goodbye. There is something refreshing about a candidate for President willing to risk his electoral chances to speak some hard policy choices and Thompson is to be commended for his bravery. As the editorial makes clear, Thompson has also presented innovative and intellectually rigorous ideas concerning immigration and the size of the nation's military. The Adam Smith Institute comes out with justified praise for Thompson's tax plan and notes that Thompson has a very interesting and original idea on how the United States could be transitioned to a flat tax system. Anything would be better than the current "progressive" scheme and Thompson is one of the few Republican candidates who has come out with a workable alternative tax system for the United States to adopt.
Indeed, as a general matter, it should be noted--as many have said--that when it comes to policy discussions, Thompson is clearly intellectually and substantively prepared to wade into the deep end of the pool. Moreover, Thompson clearly enjoys serious and intense policy discussions and is a genuine wonk. Thompson intellectual approach to policy issues will lead to a more refined and successful decision-making process if he should be elected President. Contrast this most especially with Huckabee, who resembles, for all of his silver-tongued eloquence, a drowning man when conversations get excessively substantive. The choice between these two candidates should be and is no choice at all. Thompson is simply one of the most intellectually impressive candidates on either side. Policy wonks like me appreciate and respect his serious attitude to substance and the issues and such seriousness is in great demand given the policy challenges we face.
Not only is Thompson's command something to admire, his stances are ones that Republican voters can get enthusiastic about and get behind, as Quin Hillyer writes:
On substance, that message has just about everything to make the old Reagan coalition swoon. Tax cuts and simplification? Check. Record of fighting wasteful spending? Check. More money for the military? Check. Returning power to the states? Consistent votes against abortion? Support for solidly conservative judges? Almost-visceral support for Israel? Support for private gun rights? Check, check, check, check, and check.
In recent weeks, Thompson has added depth to those conservative bona fides. His series of detailed papers on defense, taxes, and Social Security have earned widespread praise from conservative outlets, including the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. On the politically risky issue of Social Security, [pollster Frank] Luntz says his focus groups show that Thompson uses effective language: "The way that he looks at it is that we have to protect our children from ourselves. It is an intergenerational approach and it is very popular among Republicans."
Michael Tanner--whose takes a backseat to no one on the issue of small government--piles on:
During his eight years in the Senate, Thompson had a solid record as a fiscal conservative. The National Taxpayers Union gives him the third highest marks of any candidate (trailing only Reps. Ron Paul and Rep. Tom Tancredo). He generally shared McCain's opposition to pork barrel spending and earmarks, and voted against the 2002 farm bill. He voted for the Bush tax cuts and has generally been solid in support of tax reduction. He has consistently supported entitlement reform, voting to means-test Medicare and supporting personal accounts for Social Security.
On federalism, there may be no better candidate. His Senate record is replete with examples of his being the lone opponent of legislation that he thought undercut federalist principles. He took this position even on legislation that was otherwise supported by conservatives. He opposes federal action to prohibit gay marriage on federalist grounds, although he supports state bans. One blight on this record is his vote in favor of No Child Left Behind, but he now says he opposes increased federal involvement in education.
In fairness, it should be noted, of course, that Thompson supported the McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform" bill when he was a Senator. Disappointing, but he now is against it, as Tanner notes. It is to be hoped that as President, Thompson will follow the Supreme Court's manifest lead on the issue of campaign finance reform and lead an effort to scrap McCain-Feingold once and for all.
When it comes to the issue of federalism, Thompson has received well-earned kudos:
. . . Thompson has been talking and writing about his belief in federalism. In a recent speech, he argued that "centralized government is not the solution to all our problems...this was among the great insights of 1787, and it is just as vital in 2007."
Thompson rightly argues that the abandonment of federalism has caused a range of pathologies including a lack of government accountability, the squelching of policy diversity between the states, and the overburdening of federal policymakers with local matters when they should be focusing on national security issues.
Sadly, this belief in federalism has been lacking in recent years. Thompson could work to bring about its renaissance in the Republican Party and in America in general. This would be most welcome.
On the issue of national security, Thompson fits the bill. His bio points out that Thompson served as ""special counsel, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations 1980-1981" and "special counsel, Senate Intelligence Committee 1982"--all of which entails significant amounts of exposure to foreign policy issues. In addition, Wikipedia informs us that "Thompson is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a Visiting Fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, specializing in national security and intelligence." Thompson's interest in foreign policy and national security affairs is readily apparent in discussions with him. Back to Hillyer:
But what really animates Thompson is the battle against terrorism. On this topic, his obvious passion equals that of his friend John McCain. Indeed, it is difficult for an interviewer to get him off the subject.
"I understand the nature of the threat we are facing internationally in large part because of my service on the intelligence committee and my travel around the world meeting with foreign leaders," Thompson said. "Also, my service as chairman of the government affairs committee dealing with issues of nuclear proliferation, and finally on the international security advisory board for the State Department. Condoleezza Rice asked me to chair that board...."
Thompson was just getting started.
Jonathan Adler boils things down:
Sen. Fred Thompson may be a professional actor, but it's hard to find a more authentic conservative candidate in this campaign. He has been a consistent champion of fiscal discipline, national security, and government reform, among other issues important to the Right. As National Review recently editorialized, "Thompson has set a standard for specificity, conservatism, and soundness" yet to be matched by any other candidate. More than anyone else, he advocates a conservatism of the head that should appeal to conservative hearts. If the Republican nomination should go to the most principled and consistent conservative in the race, there should be little question that Fred Thompson is the man to nominate.
Some worry Thompson doesn't want the presidency badly enough. In an era when politicians plan their political moves years, if not decades, in advance, Thompson is almost an accidental candidate: someone willing to run if the people want him on his terms. This may be his greatest liability -- but it should also be an asset in wooing conservatives to his cause.
Thompson, after all, is not running a campaign of simple slogans or pandering platitudes. He is willing to take positions that risk offending potential constituencies. Witness his attack on the gluttonous farm bill and opposition to some business-favored federal tort reforms. He may have been unprepared to answer a media question about the "Jena 6," but he can discuss the crisis in Pakistan, the threat of nuclear proliferation, regulatory bloat, or the future of entitlements with a level of nuance and detail that comes only from genuine intellectual engagement. If Republicans are looking for an "anti-Hillary" -- a reluctant candidate with a commitment to limited government who will bring honor and integrity to the White House -- it would be hard to do better than Fred.
Many writers, in praising Thompson, have indicated that one of the more laudable things about his candidacy is that he is more interested in doing something than he is in being somebody. This is true. Ambition is a good thing to have but far too many politicians make ambition an end in and of itself. For Thompson, ambition is a means to an end--a means to implementing the policy positions he and other Reagan Republicans care about so deeply. That having been written, Thompson owes it to his supporters to vigorously campaign for the Presidency of the United States. People like me have invested a lot of hope in Thompson's candidacy as being the truest campaign there is to the principles of Reaganism. Reaganism deserves a forceful, articulate, tireless and compelling champion for its philosophy. If Thompson is willing to be that candidate, if he is ambitious not for himself but for the beliefs he holds and for the country which can benefit mightily from the application of those beliefs, his candidacy can serve as a powerful standard to which Republicans can rally. And more importantly, it can lead to a Presidency of success and promise.
We have waited a long time for a candidate who puts substance over style. Now is the time for him and for his supporters to put their noses to the grindstone and realize his vision.
Fred Thompson for President.