Some unsatisfied Republican voters, especially conservative ones, have threatened to sit out the Republican primary in protest. Indeed, within GOP circles it is not uncommon that one may hear the refrain, "I'd rather have Hillary or Obama win and start fresh than to vote for a RINO (Republican in Name Only) or some half-committed conservative."
Rants of frustration such as these, while understandable, are baseless. More than that, they belie and betray the Republican and conservative arguments regarding the existential battle of our time-the long term threats posed by radical Islamic terrorism. In a time of war, the temptation toward "Kamikaze Republicanism" is both intellectually and ethically bankrupt. Worse, such sentiments stand to pose grave danger to the 2.4 million soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who stand ready to do violence on the nation's behalf so that Americans might live freely.
To argue that there is not a "dime's worth of difference" between a President Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama vs. a President McCain, Romney, or Giuliani negates the entire range of national security arguments waged since September 11th. In one rhetorical swipe of tongue, Kamikaze Republicanism reduces the singular security threat of our age to rubble, for implicit in the argument is the notion that presidential leadership is impotent in effectuating military and geopolitical change. But as the enormously successful "surge" in Iraq continues to demonstrate, the strategic and tactical decisions leaders make affects the direction that events will take. Indeed, to suggest that General Petraeus's leadership and counsel would have been equally followed by a president beholden to and political dependent upon groups who smear and denigrate such a patriot with cries of "General Betraeus" is intellectual laziness in the extreme.
One might respond, "yes, but there are other factors to consider in a president than merely foreign policy credentials and military bona fides." To be sure, the next president of the United States will shape the contours of the Supreme Court, influence the size and shape of government, and guide the nation's moral and spiritual compass. But come November, first and foremost Americans will elect a president to serve his or her Constitutional duty as commander-in-chief.
And that matters-deeply.
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".