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Newsweek: Do Any '08 Candidates Have What It Takes?

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    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18507654/site/newsweek/ Do Any 08 Candidates Have What It Takes? By Evan Thomas Newsweek May 14, 2007 issue - They all want to be
    Message 1 of 1 , May 6, 2007
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      Do Any '08 Candidates Have What It Takes?
      By Evan Thomas

      May 14, 2007 issue - They all want to be Harry Truman. Hillary Clinton
      invokes his iconic sign (THE BUCK STOPS HERE) to call for better
      treatment of wounded veterans. Barack Obama reminds us that Truman was
      the first politician bold enough to call for universal health care.
      Rudy Giuliani notes that Truman was unpopular in his day, but if he
      hadn't stood up to the Soviets in the late 1940s, asks Giuliani, "Who
      knows how much longer the cold war would have gone on?"

      There are some eternal verities about politics—chiefly, that most
      politicians are (surprise, surprise) carefully calculating and keenly
      attuned to what is possible. There are some eternal truths about
      history, too. History has a habit of changing its mind. The case of
      the now sainted Truman, the Platonic presidential ideal of 2008, is an
      example of just this phenomenon. In 1953, when Truman left Washington
      for Independence, Mo., few were unhappy to see him go. His
      administration was accused of corruption and the Korean War was
      stalemated. Yet as the years passed, his stature grew. His candor
      stood in welcome contrast to the obfuscations of Vietnam- and

      Watergate-era Washington; the policy of containment stood the test of
      time, and his sense of responsibility—he really did believe the buck
      stopped with him—loomed large in an age of buck-passing. Love him or
      hate him, he made the tough calls, often courageously, and history has
      rewarded him for it.

      Buffeted by war, unhappy with President Bush, many
      Americans—Democratic, Republican, independent—seem hungry for a
      Trumanesque figure, a truth-telling, bare-knuckled president who will
      give it to us straight. The question now is whether anybody in the
      2008 field can measure up.

      Americans say they want to see courage from their politicians. As the
      historian Michael Beschloss illustrates in his new book, "Presidential
      Courage," the greatest presidents were willing to risk their political
      careers to do the right thing for the country. Being courageous is
      usually hard to fake; voters, even apathetic ones, have a way of
      spotting phonies. But it is difficult to tell whether a candidate will
      make the hard choices until he or she actually becomes president—by
      which time, it's too late.

      Still, voters can find hints and clues. Though the most successful
      politicians tend to be cautious, poll-driven and consultant-coached,
      they have to make choices that test their moral fortitude. All the
      front runners have taken risks—if not in the political arena, then in
      their personal lives. None of these contenders can be dismissed as
      purely expedient and opportunistic. It is worth remembering that
      Truman, the plain-spoken pillar of integrity described by Beschloss in
      the excerpt that follows, was widely seen—perhaps unfairly—as a
      machine pol and a hack before he became president. And it is worth
      considering that history shines on the brave presidents who were lucky
      enough to win—not the ones, like Lyndon Johnson, who dared greatly but

      By far the most dramatic profile in courage belongs to John McCain. As
      a prisoner of war in Hanoi, he was offered an early release by the
      North Vietnamese because his father was the commander of American
      forces in the Pacific. McCain chose to stay in prison—and endure
      torture and privation for another five years. Running for president in
      2000, McCain was a refreshing and rare politician who was willing to
      talk on the record for hours to reporters riding the "Straight Talk
      Express." Because McCain himself has suffered and endured for his
      country, he has more moral standing to ask for sacrifice than other

      But for many months, McCain has appeared to cater to the Republican
      establishment, hoping to inherit the Bush fund-raising apparatus and
      placate conservatives who do not trust him on issues of taxes and
      immigration. His efforts have not paid off: he is not the front runner
      in fund-raising or in national polls. And he has seemed strangely
      dispirited along the way, more petulant than determined in last week's
      first Republican debate. That may be because he senses that his
      unflagging support for a highly unpopular war in Iraq could end his
      political career, but it may be because he is not, at heart, a
      politician. He is a warrior.

      The lawmaker most often credited with courage by voters in the latest
      NEWSWEEK Poll is Giuliani, cited by 48 percent (42 percent named
      McCain, 43 percent cited Hillary Clinton). Giuliani rarely misses a
      chance to remind voters that he was the hero of 9/11, calming New
      Yorkers as well as the rest of the country with his steady resolve. He
      was also a tough-minded mayor who reduced crime in the city. But as a
      presidential candidate he has played to old passions by suggesting
      that it was a matter of states' rights to fly the Confederate flag
      over the Alabama capitol. (Six years ago McCain called a similar
      pander to Old Dixie in South Carolina the lowest moment in his
      political life.)

      A former conservative Republican governing in liberal Massachusetts,
      Mitt Romney showed his independence by wielding vetoes. "I've done it
      hundreds of times," Romney boasted in the debate. "I can't wait to get
      my hands on Washington's budget." But as a presidential candidate,
      he's been accused of flip-flopping on social issues—abandoning a
      pro-choice, pro-gay-rights stance in Massachusetts to attack abortion
      and gay marriage. (At last week's debate, Romney pointed out that
      Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush had also switched their stances on

      All the candidates will use their life stories to show a sense of
      moral purpose. After partying at Stanford, Romney says, he found
      purpose on a Mormon mission to France and came back to finish college
      at Brigham Young. At Harvard Business School, Romney says he "didn't
      hang out much" with his schoolmate George W. Bush. "I was married at
      the time with two or three children," he told NEWSWEEK. Bush was a
      single guy in his " 'young and irresponsible' period ... I longed for
      the chance to get at the books and study and learn."

      Hillary Clinton had a stark moral choice: whether to stay with her
      husband when President Clinton's philandering with Monica Lewinsky was
      exposed. Her decision to stand by him could not have been easy. But
      it's not the sort of moment that her campaign will want to feature in
      ads. Her aides have defended her refusal to apologize for her pro-war
      vote in the Senate in the fall of 2002 as a matter of principle. But
      it may be that she is reaching out to Red State voters who question
      the Democrats' toughness on foreign policy. (Ever calibrating her
      stand, last week she demanded that Congress re-authorize the war as of
      Oct. 11, the fifth anniversary of the original vote.)

      Barack Obama was an early opponent of the war at a time when most
      Democrats were still with Bush. Favorably compared to Bobby Kennedy,
      Obama does have an air of authenticity—he writes his own books and
      seems to speak from the heart. Giving up a corporate job in Manhattan,
      he went to work in Chicago as a low-paid community organizer. He will
      take on liberal bloggers who criticize him as too centrist. But there
      is a something of the raging moderate about Obama: he never sticks his
      neck so far out that he can't pull it back in.

      John Edwards has staked out the clearest position on the left. He has
      taken a political risk by vowing to raise taxes on the rich to help
      pay for universal health coverage. On the campaign trail, he flaunts a
      stand-up style. "You may not always agree with me," he says, "but
      you'll know where I stand." Edwards also has a personal story of
      facing adversity: the death of his teenage son, Wade, in a car crash
      in 1996 and the recent cancer recurrence of his wife, Elizabeth. But
      Edwards strikes some as a little slick, even (or especially) when he
      is talking about his family trials. As for his political courage, he
      is making a bet that old-style soak-the-rich populism can be a winner
      in this election cycle—though the recent flap over his $400 haircuts
      has not helped his common-man pitch.

      What looks like courage in a politician may just be posturing or cold
      calculation. But at the same time, real courage is not worth much if
      it is unaccompanied by judgment and realism. George W. Bush may have
      thought he was following in the footsteps of Winston Churchill when he
      ordered the invasion of Iraq. But when things quickly turned sour, his
      show of resolve began to seem more foolhardy than wise. In the
      NEWSWEEK Poll, when asked about Bush's recent actions in Iraq, 30
      percent saw them as a sign of political courage. But twice as many—62
      percent—interpreted Bush's stay-the-course plan in Iraq as
      stubbornness. Courage is also about learning from—and facing up
      to—your mistakes.

      With Jonathan Darman, Arian Campo-Flores, Holly Bailey and Richard Wolffe
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