Have you been singing the political blues? Have you been waiting for a politician to say the right things, and are you more than a little disappointed with the right-of-center political landscape as we approach spring 2008? Well, have I got the guy for you. He's a leader. He's honest. And he's available.
The one hitch -- isn't there always one? -- is that he's an Aussie. But aren't constitutions made to be amended?
At the annual American Enterprise Institute gala at the Washington Hilton, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard delivered a full-spectrum apologia for conservatism.
Recipient of the Irving Kristol Award that night at this think tank known for "neo-conservative" foreign policy, Howard did a lot more than simply defend the war in Iraq and emphasize the need to stay vigilant in the fight against Islamic fascism (which would have been important testimonies by themselves).
Howard hit all the right (yes, Right) buttons for me: He talked about the importance of free markets in raising people up, he talked about the importance of school choice and religious education, he even plugged my friend and colleague John O'Sullivan's book "The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World," on how Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher ended the Cold War. He defended the traditional family, doing so with both a sense of urgency and compassion. He told the elite dinner crowd, which included Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, vice-presidential spouse Lynne Cheney and other D.C. conservative celebrities and policymakers, "We should maintain a cultural bias in favor of traditional families. That doesn't mean discriminating against single parents, but it does mean ceaselessly propounding the advantages for a child of being raised by both a mother and father. Marriage is a bedrock social institution -- with an unmistakable meaning and resonance. It should be kept as such." He cautioned against a "soft underbelly of cultural self-doubt in certain Western societies."
Howard has all the right enemies, too -- the real one being the terrorists who hate our way of life. He criticized Democrats for their "naive" and "dangerous" moves to withdraw from Iraq. But he also took time to knock multilateral institutions like the United Nations, the liberal media and the "insidious tide of political correctness." He took issue with the archbishop of Canterbury, who recently voiced support for the allowance of Sharia law within Britain's own law. How can a nation inculcate a respect for the rule of law when it offers citizens multiple laws to choose from?
While I'll be voting for John McCain in the fall, I can understand why some conservatives might read this or listen to Howard's speech and pine for a time machine to go back to his prime ministership in Australia and take a political vacation in an ideological heaven. But that's not how politics works. And it's not all that bad here in the United States. McCain is a disappointment inasmuch as he is not a defender of all the values I hold dear. He has admitted that he doesn't care so much for the social issues that move me. We face fundamental challenges in our culture, and some presidential support wouldn't hurt. But here's another consideration: We won't be having these debates if we're dead. And on Sept. 11, 2001, the plane that went down in the fields of Pennsylvania was headed for one of the very places where we have these debates, where policy is carved out in Washington, D.C. McCain has been a stalwart defender of the surge policy in Iraq. So even if I wanted another candidate, I can rally to McCain -- particularly if he teams himself up with an experienced leader with a devotion to the issues I care about.
As Howard put it, "the battle of ideas is never completely won and must always command both our attention and our energy." This is where we can come together. McCain, I suspect, has realized it. Conservatives will realize it. A conservative vice president might help us all get along. That, and the sound of surrender coming from the Democratic Party.
And if you need an extra boost, McCain, get John Howard supporting you.