Monday, October 03, 2011

The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

Republicans need to rally under a candidate, and cannot allow ideological vanity to bind them

Writing in an op/ed in The Daily Beast, Meghan McCain sounds an important alarm for Republicans eager to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012:

Rally behind a candidate. Do it quickly.

"Sarah Palin accused [Herman] Cain of being the 'flavor of the week,' and this is one of the rare times I agree with her," she writes. "The Republicans are suffering from what Bill Maher recently dubbed a 'promiscuous' problem with our candidates. We keep having one-night stands with politicians we think we only want to marry, and then get cold feet."

"The short list includes the likes of Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry with a possible addition of Chris Christie," she continues. "All of this excitement is soon followed by a quick fizzle of disappointment when these candidates look flawed under the spotlight of the media, incapable of pleasing the temperamental Republican base. It is as if we are more concerned with the drama of the electing a new prom king than concentrating on who the best person to beat Obama is."

McCain is precisely right to point this out as a serious problem, but she seems to fall short on elaborating why. Republicans actually don't have a good reason for it, either.

The reason, far too often, has turned out to be ideological vanity.

To date the favourites in the Republican primary have shifted from Mitt Romney, to Rick Perry, and now to Herman Cain. Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann have been promising candidates, but really only pretenders.

At each turn, Republicans have agonized over whether or not each candidate is the ideologically perfect conservative. In turn, both Romney and Perry have been found to be imperfect. Now it seems that it's Cain's turn.

And Cain will be found to be imperfect. Because he is imperfect. So are Romney, Perry, Pawlenty, Bachmann, Gingrich, Santorum, Paul, et al.

In the search for the perfect conservative, Republicans may well cut themselves off from the best Presidential candidate. They should know this well already. In 2008, many conservative Republican voters didn't show up to vote for John McCain because he was deemed to be ideologically imperfect.

What was the result? President Barack Obama.

Republicans have already been bitten by this bit of political snobbery before. They shouldn't allow themselves to fall victim to it again.

To date, Cain appears like he may be the best conservative of all the candidates in the field, embodying each of the most important intellectual traditions of conservatism.

The remaining rational objections are not based on Cain's ideological characteristics, but of his political qualifications.

"We are a little more than three months away from the New Hampshire primary and Republicans need to start getting our act together. Cain has a very small window right now to utilize his momentum and prove that he should be the next GOP nominee," McCain notes. "But let’s face reality: as much as even I can find myself developing warm feelings toward Cain because he seems like a nice, charming and normal person, if that were the only qualifications for president, we should be nominating Zach Galifianakis. Although Cain has been outrageously successful as a businessman, he has almost no experience on politics and has never actually held public office."

"In the time of such extreme anti-Washington rhetoric, Cain may play like a good thing in the primary stump speeches. I admit that even I have found myself getting caught up in his moment," she continues. "But I assure you when the rubber starts hitting the road, voters are going to want someone with real experience in all areas of politics, especially when it comes to foreign policy, something Cain has quite no experience in (unless Godfather's Pizza delivers to Canada)."

Barack Obama didn't have any foreign policy experience either, and Americans still elected him President. Also, Cain's lack of experience in political office could prove to be refreshing for many voters.

Cain hasn't been subject to the horse trading that takes place on Capitol hill, and hasn't been subdued by the idea that everything is a matter of such horse trading.

This isn't to say that a relentlessly-uncompromising President is what would be best for America, or even that Cain would be such a President. Compromise that leads to, for example, a more equitable budget is far preferable than horse trading that leads to pork barreling.

Meghan McCain is precisely right that time is running out for the Republican Party to start giving its Presidential candidates a serious look. Hopefully she -- and all Republicans -- will remember that the search for the perfect candidate may well cost them their best candidate if they aren't careful.

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