Individual liberties and freedoms are only useful insofar as one is alive to exercise them. To put it as Ronald Reagan put it, "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."
The threats to our national and economic security posed by another terrorist attack are enormous and the things nightmares are made of. And while it is political en vogue to poke and belittle those responsible for gathering national threat and intelligence data, the "patriots in the shadows"-the ones who do the heavy lifting of history and the difficult work that democratic societies demand-remain painfully aware of the tenuous and paper thin nature of our nation's vulnerability to attack.
And yet, how quickly we forgot. The most dire and painful losses were, of course, human lives. Yet the aftermath sent economic shockwaves rippling as well. Recall that in the three months following the horrors of Sept. 11, the United States lost one million jobs. As would-be JFK Airport terrorist Russell Defreitas explained to one of his co-conspirators last May 2007, were they to succeed in exploding fuel lines running beneath JFK Airport and the rest of the New York City, they could "destroy the economy of America for some time."
And that's the point: in an age of global terrorism, where bombs are detonated with cell phones and buildings taken down by passenger planes, America's national security and her economic security are twinned. And that's why any argument in support of "tossing away" the 2008 presidential election and ceding Republican defeat lacks seriousness.
Republicans and conservatives (as should now be clear, they are not always one and the same) need to do as Ronald Reagan did and settle on a few major goals and stick to them. Presidents are not managers of food buffets-having a little something for everyone ends up satisfying no one. Reagan entered office with two goals: cut taxes and stand down Communism and the former Soviet Union. He achieved both. 2008 is a different time beset with different challenges. Indeed, searching for another Reagan is chasing after the wind.
But the principle remains: make your policy priorities a priority. Had Reagan telegraphed that federal spending would balloon on his watch as he later lamented, or that he would sign an amnesty bill into law, some Republican and conservative voters might have abandoned his candidacy, thereby leaving history to pick up the pieces of yet another four years of Jimmy Carter-induced malaise and failure.
Kamikaze Republicanism threatens the same.
Wynton Hall is a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and author of "The Right Words: Great Republican Speeches That Shaped History".