Last Thursday, I ran into a famous actor who had been out of circulation for a while. Having met him a few years ago, I reintroduced myself and asked him how he was doing. As we caught up a little, I realized that he had just weathered the storm of his life. Like myself, he had a bout with potentially deadly cancer. His problem was prostate cancer. Despite the traumatic experience, he grinned from ear to ear! He had that I’ve-just-dodged-a-bullet look on his face.
We had a delightful time sharing survivor stories, but what impressed me the most in the conversation was the way he chose his physician. His celebrity status brought him before some of the most outstanding doctors in the world. Each one of these doctors had excellent credentials and were imminently qualified to perform the delicate surgery which could have left this man incontinent, impotent, or irreparably scarred in other ways. When the star’s process came down to two finalists, he decided to choose the doctor who exuded the most joy and confidence.
At first, I thought he was joking; but he was deadly serious. I remembered that my own surgeon had a certain bravado and a devil-may-care attitude, yet he was reputed to the best in the world at this kind of surgery.
As I reflected on this conversation, I could not help but draw an analogy to the political leadership dilemma our nation faces. We have to select a president, a host of senators, and an army of congressmen and women. Conservatives continue to be shaken by scandals, vilification, and a growing sense of hopelessness in the face of the political realities of the legislative branch of government.
Unfortunately, many conservatives have earned their stripes by being critical and negative. Many of our most popular talk show hosts and authors are caustic and combative. Thankfully, liberals have not identified a “good news” candidate of change. Liberals are doing a good job at expressing the need to change and pointing out why George W. Bush is not the right man to lead the nation into the future (but last time I checked Bush is not running any way).
As we heard the controversy about Iraq last week, no one from either party seemed to stand up and say, “I know the way---follow me!” A credible plan and a little bit of bravado accompanied by a swagger might have turned the heads of the nation. I was delighted with Mike Huckabee’s widely repeated comment, "I'm a conservative but I'm not mad at anybody about it."
I like Huckabee’s attitude! I just wish he and others could match it with practical solutions. Let’s think about this for a moment. McCain seems dour and tired. Governor Romney has the same kind of “can do” attitude as Huckabee. Senator Brownback is one of the finest men I have ever met with a sense of honor and statesmanship. Guliani has the swagger but he could hardly be accused of being happy! Finally, Thompson’s campaign is too young to analyze – although he has the quiet confidence of a great leader.
So what do we do?
Whether we like it or not, we have an image problem. In Nixon’s day there was Watergate, in Bill Clinton’s time there was “zipper gate,” during this administration there is a “credibility gate.” The average American wonders whether conservatives have answers. Some of them view us as the lap dogs of big business and protectors of the old guard. Others see us as crusty, old-fashioned bigots using rotary phones in the millennium of the I-phone. Yet another group categorizes us as sexually repressed, control freaks on political steroids.
These images can be changed if we step up to the plate and talk turkey about the problems of our day. Let’s boldly share our “out of the box” solutions to the nation’s problems. If we don’t have answers that can be accepted by people from both sides of the aisle, we are not serving the nation. Let’s not forget that on Hillary Clinton’s first trip to Capitol Hill as first lady, she vowed to fix health care. Fifteen years later, there is still no answer. In my view, this kind of stalemate happens because stake holders don’t want change and politicians want to prove that their ideologically polarizing approaches are right.
But having the answer is not enough; we’ve got to convince the patient that he needs to choose us to perform the risky, but necessary surgery. Five immediate problems come to mind that we must present clear answers for in the next 12 to 14 months or the result will be liberal leadership for the next eight years in the White House and both houses of Congress. The nation wants to know the answer to these pressing questions:
1. What will Iraq look like in 2012?
2. How do we protect ourselves from terrorism?
3. How do we fix the immigration problem - step by step?
4. How do we fix the health care system?
5. How do we keep our economy strong?
I am looking for conservative leaders with substance, who will boldly dare to lead the way. In addition, these leaders need to heed one more admonition: keep smiling!