I won’t pretend to duplicate the eulogies of President Ronald Reagan on his death. I just want to ask a simple question: where is Ronald Reagan when we really need him?
OK. A two-part question: Who is going to save us from ourselves, now that Reagan is gone forever? And why doesn’t our system produce more men with Reagan’s positive personality?
We are heading into what could prove to be the most desultory election since 1968. George Bush has worn out his welcome with the American people. Oh, I know that "50%" or thereabouts still support him. But Bush’s support is trending downwards. It can only get worse. There is a lot of anger building here at home as he pushes us further into his excursion in Iraq. That anger is not yet reflected in the polls.
Bush likes the trappings of office, the pseudo landings on aircraft carriers, the pomp and circumstance of the American presidency, of being "commander in chief". But does it agree with him? Is he in reality a true "commander in chief?" Would our men and women follow Bush into battle if they had the choice?
He has become our most isolated president in recent history. Part of the isolation is simply that Bush does not seek out information; he is content to be "informed" by his staff. His is not a curious mind. Bush has become his own prisoner, unable to make changes in policy or personnel while the world watches in horror, and amusement, as the reasons for his invasion of Iraq melt like mud pies in a rainstorm.
We Americans want to support our president. We want to believe. You have only to watch the coverage of D-Day and the dedication of the World War II Memorial to recognize the great loyalty, dedication and sacrifice of which the American people are capable. We trusted Washington in World War II. We don’t trust Washington now.
John Kerry is no man-on-a-white-horse either. He fumbles and stumbles. Kerry is supposed to be a man who has plotted every step in his career. Yet he didn’t see that "voting for it, and then voting against it," would make him look stupid. What kind of calculations are these? What plotting? Kerry’s wounds have been self-inflicted. Even as the Iraq news went from bad to worse, Kerry could not gain ground on Bush. As of today (and he changes from day to day) Kerry’s policy on Iraq is almost a carbon copy of Bush’s.
Bush and Kerry equally incapable of rallying the American people.
I repeat: where is President Reagan when we really need him? We are going through a very nasty election season with the Bushies sliming Kerry and vice versa. There is little optimism, little reason to hope, little faith in a brighter future.
Reagan’s last words on November 5, 1994 were "I know that for America there will also be a bright dawn ahead." The man could dream. The man could inspire. The man could lead. We are in a mess that the neo-cons got us into, and there is no obvious exit strategy. Things could end up poorly in Iraq, or badly, or even worse. The invasion was wrong, the occupation of Iraq worse still. They are both albatrosses around Bush’s neck. And we have no one with Reagan’s straightforward optimism to lead us out of the morass.
In fact, things are so bad Bush last week went back in history to the old "press gangs" of the British Navy, and "pressed" loyal members of the armed services into involuntarily extending their tours of duty. The tens of thousands of men and women who are being kept in the service after their release dates, and the reservists and National Guard troops who are being mobilized for a second or third tour are angry to have their lives disrupted for an asinine foreign policy. It is no surprise that people don’t trust Washington.
We really need a Ronald Reagan, to cut to the quick, to leads us out of our self-destructive policies in the Middle East. But no such leader is on the horizon. Bush tries to be a "Reagan," to act like Reagan, but George W. is a pitiful actor. He reminds me of someone in a school play striving to impersonate a great man, a Reagan. He is not succeeding.
Which leads me to my second question: why doesn’t our political system produce men and women of vision, of moral clarity, of warm and loving public persona such as Reagan? We are cursed with a congress of political shopkeepers, each looking out for him or her, for #1, none of them having the inspirational ability to lead the nation in time of crisis. With the exception of John McCain our "second team" is a weak one indeed.
Who is Bush’s natural replacement? Kerry? Kerry may still win, but it will not be by convincing Americans he is a natural leader. Quite the contrary. If he wins, Kerry will stumble into the White House on Bush’s mistakes and missteps.
Our political system has become so self-serving, so encrusted with special interest money and corporate manipulation that we can’t seem to produce leaders any more. We are very critical of Middle Easterners for not being able to make democracy work. But with a much more advanced political system, we can’t seem to make our democracy work much better. Americans voted for a man in 2000 that said he would avoid "nation building," and then stuck us with nation building where we ought not to be.
"September 11, 2001" was the excuse for many of our initial policy reactions. But as 9/11 recedes into history, that date can no longer bear the burden of a self-destructive foreign policy carried on in the name of 9/11. Having squandered the goodwill generated by the tragedy of 9/11, Bush is now dipping his bucket in the residual reservoir of national unity associated with World War II. It is a desperate maneuver. It won’t work.
Is it any wonder Americans long for Ronald Reagan and the veterans of World War II? But Reagan is dead and World War II remembrances are over for another decade (unless we revive them in 2005, which surely we will). We can only charge our batteries a few more hours longer with national mourning and remembrance. When all of the ceremonies and celebrations are over, we still need to find ourselves an American leader who is capable of leading us and inspiring our trust and confidence.
Where is he or she?