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Go Set a President

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Harper Lee’s, “Go Set A Watchman,” is both timely and timeless. It takes us back to when questions of race, equality, and tolerance pre-occupied many dinner conversations, especially after Brown v. Board of Education prompted new thinking and turmoil, both north and south.


Readers will find themselves absorbed by a milieu many believed had passed, but which many believe is still upon us. It is written in an omniscient presence often shunned by publishers today, and Lee sometimes confuses us with her lazy use of pronouns. Occasionally, we’re not sure who’s speaking.

It’s that last point that prompted me to see a metaphor joining her story of conscience and clash, and the uncertain voices in society today. After the 2008 presidential election, even those who hadn’t voted for Barack Obama hoped his speech that went along the lines of, “We are not red states or blue states. We are the United States,” were more than elegant verbal brushstrokes. The nation was divided and he would unite us, he said. Wherever we were then, Mr. Obama has made it worse.

Three issues that have been allowed to fester must be true priorities for any Republican candidate, and for the next POTUS. If these are moved toward resolution, we just might resume our place as the exceptional nation many believe to be our duty and destiny.

The first issue is race, the alligator so ferociously wrestled by Ms. Lee in both her books. Blacks, Asians, Arabs, and Hispanic-Latinos must be made welcome as part of our culture, not apart from it. That means we encourage one language, thoroughgoing and responsible education through high school, and accessible higher learning for those with talent and desire. That also means everyone puts their oar in the water, each of us earning the respect of others anew because of what we put into the mix, not, as Mr. Obama’s philosophy demands, because of what some insist they’re entitled to take out of it.


Immigration: one party dithers and the other panders, but such pretensions are no longer possible. Though Mr. Obama promised immigration reform as an action to take along with closing Guantanamo, neither happened despite ownership of both houses of congress through 2010. One must believe forces within his own party refused to honor his promises to Hispanic-Latino supporters, and incredibly, Mr. Obama has exacerbated the situation by refusing to lead us to that place where some may not wish to go. Unlike Obamacare, data and reason demonstrate that unfettered immigration makes our poor poorer and mires our middle class in quicksand, depressing wages and life quality along the way.

Foreign policy is third, but co-equal. Benjamin Franklin learned that diplomacy is the art of advancing the interests of one’s own nation. The unpleasant completed thought is that diplomacy seeks a national advantage over others, but because all participants play by that same, self-serving rule, many interests are satisfied in the end. Whether it’s “the Iran deal,” misuse of our allies in the Middle East, or obeisance to our geopolitical adversaries, Mr. Obama has arrogantly demoted our national interests so as to perversely “balance things out” between the US and the Middle East, the US and Russia, Israel and its foes, and the US and China. Not understanding the purpose of diplomacy, we have played the patsy in every poker game.


Lee’s “watchman” is her conscience, just as it is ours. Every American knows it—Black, White, Asian, Arab, Hispanic-Latino. By God or by karma, the United States is an exceptional nation, one to which much has been given, and from which much is expected. Our next president must possess figurative cojones (Margaret Thatcher had them!)—not to foist a fantastical philosophy, but to take us to those places we know we must go.

It’s about our national conscience. Next, we need to go set a president.

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