Cliff May

I suspect few readers will disagree when I say that not one of the presidential candidates, Republican or Democratic, has yet articulated a compelling campaign theme. All favor security. Not one opposes prosperity. Each promises to protect Social Security and improve health care. Voters can be forgiven if they are not overwhelmed.

Let me offer a different approach on the off-chance that some candidate might find it useful: Tell voters the hard truth – and challenge them.

In particular, tell them we are at a critical moment in our nation's history: A dangerous enemy is waging an unconventional war against us. We are just beginning to learn how to defend ourselves. Remind them that this enemy has been underestimated by presidents and lawmakers of both parties many times, over many years.

Tell them, too, that fighting this enemy is a burden that history is asking the current generation of Americans to bear. We must do this for future generations – as past generations fought for us.

Say frankly that if we don't have the stomach for a long and difficult war, we will be defeated by movements that are more determined than we are -- and more ruthless than we can ever imagine becoming.

It is rare for politicians to talk this way. But it is not unprecedented. In 1940, Hitler's armies were wiping off the map one European nation after another. In Britain, many people believed the wisest course was not to fight the Nazis but to negotiate a diplomatic settlement, to address the legitimate grievances of the German people.

On May 13, 1940 Winston Churchill entered the House of Commons for the first time as British Prime Minister. Next to him was Neville Chamberlain, the outgoing PM. Chamberlain was greeted with cheers. Churchill was not.

Churchill didn't tell the officials and the public what they wanted to hear. He told them what they needed to hear: that it would be both wrong and unproductive to attempt to appease tyrants.

He famously said: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering."

It is possible the current conflict will be less lethal than World War II. But it will last longer -- it already has. What policy would a Churchillian presidential candidate adopt? Churchill said: "You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy."

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.