Scott Walker has zero experience in foreign affairs. In televised debates, he will be asked, “What experience do you have in dealing with foreign powers?”
Thus, the Governor of Wisconsin has come up with a silly strategy: that he’s tough enough to face anybody. How do we know? He stood up to the unions.
I don’t know who came up with this tactic–the Governor himself or advisors–but it’s weak and sad. Walker likens his stand-off against unions to standing up against foreign leaders. He even goes so far as to maintain that Ronald Reagan’s most important foreign policy was domestic: firing 11,000 air-traffic controllers who went on strike. That was a message, Walker claims, to other nations. “Don’t mess with the U.S.”–at least not while Reagan is President.
By foisting this idea as sufficient experience for a chief of state in dealing with other nations, Scott Walker is conversely proving himself “not ready for prime time,” let alone not ready for the presidency. He will be a sad spectacle in televised debates. Wisconsin at least still has the Packers to take pride in.
The problem is–foolish ambition.
Not just ambition itself. Ambition is okay. Abe Lincoln had it badly. He wanted to be President. But he was honest and dedicated to the nation and the best man for the time. During our nation’s worst division, he appealed to what was the best in Americans–“the better angels of our nature.” Contending with opposition from every direction, Lincoln wore himself out keeping the country from splitting. After victory, he was gracious to the South. Lincoln didn’t want Jefferson Davis even to be arrested when others wanted the Confederate President to be hanged.
Lincoln was the man for the nation. He knew it–he wanted to be the person in the White House. The problem is not ambition. The problem is–foolish ambition. Some want to be President who clearly are not equipped. They don’t have the values to head an entire nation. These individuals see themselves in the Oval Office, but they clearly are not a person for the nation. Their strategy is to appeal to the worst of human nature. That is hardly a vision for a nation.
As far as being overly ambitious, I’m afraid that one such case was Barack Obama. Though his values are sound, he had too much ambition but too little readiness. He had less experience in public office than most candidates would ever dare run with. But in the campaign of 2008, he won people over on the basis of lively speeches (as he also was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on the basis of one speech in Egypt). I thought Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden were both far superior candidates. I voted for Mrs. Clinton in the primary (when I was living in New Jersey), but once she lost the nomination, I went ahead and voted for Mr. Obama–because I couldn’t stomach the narrowness of the other party.
John F. Kennedy likewise was not ready for the presidency. He won by being a dashing figure –and benefitting from a huge Catholic turnout, especially in heavily Catholic Chicago. Catholic Mayor Richard Daley made sure the vote got out. The voter turnout in Chicago was an amazing 89%–while the national average was 63%. Kennedy carried Chicago by 450,000 votes–but carried the state by only 8,858! Without Chicago–Kennedy loses Illinois. Without Illinois, he loses the election.
He won–but he wasn’t ready. His own people said so. His speech-writer Ted Sorenson (who wrote all of those Kennedy lines that people remember–“Ask not what your country can do for you…”), said that it takes a newly elected President at least one full year to learn how to be President.
That may have indeed been the case for JFK. But it was not the case for his successor. In the 1960 campaign, Lyndon Baines Johnson was the far superior candidate–and proved to be so once he ascended to the office. Kennedy could not get civil-rights legislation through Congress in his three years in office, LBJ did it in less than one year. The Civil Rights laws created what one commentator has remarked “modern America.” Most Americans could not fathom what the country was like before those laws went into effect. It took an experienced politician like LBJ to get the bills through Congress in spite of the unmovable stance of Southern politicians.
He obviously blundered on Vietnam, but that’s because of the “fear” card that he knew other politicians would play against him if he let Vietnam fall to a Russian ally. LBJ told Bill Moyers he knew that he was being suckered more deeply into Vietnam. He didn’t trust the South Vietnamese government nor its generals. But LBJ felt he had no choice. He knew that politicians would play to the worst in human nature to stoke up fears in the American electorate.
And now we see all the more of the same thing–candidates envying the high office who clearly are not ready but who seek votes by appealing to the worst in people. Scott Walker doesn’t have a record to run on for national office. So–he relies instead on demagoguery. Being anti-union, anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-immigration, anti-tax, anti-science (be it opposition to global warming to satisfy the business interests or opposition to evolution to feed the fundamentalists)–he is trying to surf the wave of resentment in the American populace about these issues. In doing so, he is appealing to the most uninformed people of our land, if not the most outright ignorant.
“This is democracy?!”
I remember the cries of Iraqis being interviewed during the second Gulf War. What they meant at the time was: no electricity to cool their homes in torrid summer, no running water because of sabotage. Chaos ruled.
President George W. Bush, after securing the trust of the majority of the American people for a second invasion of Iraq, then blundered so badly that Americans wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. The President disassembled the one power in Iraq that could have provided stability in that nation–the huge Iraqi army. The few officers who were devout followers of Saddam Hussein could have been rooted out. But the vast majority of soldiers simply needed jobs. We could have kept them on duty. Instead, the one force for stability disintegrated. Chaos ruled. People suffered. The worst of behavior in the populace was unleashed: looting and ethnic rivalry.
How could a President blunder so badly? I keep thinking of the line in the movie All the President’s Men. The FBI agent (who until recent years was known only as “Deep Throat,” the source for reporters Woodward and Bernstein) meets with Woodward in an underground parking garage. Woodward wonders how the White House can get in such an awful mess as the Watergate break-in and cover-up. The FBI agent replies, “Forget about the myth of the White House!” He means the myth that these people are the best & the brightest–after all, they’re in the White House! He continues, “They’re second-rate people.” Not the sharpest knives in the drawer.
Second-rate advisors get in because of second-rate candidates getting elected. Scott Walker is appealing to the worst in people–their “me-first” attitude when the country’s gap between rich and poor is alarming; their “not in my neighborhood” attitude when the country is becoming more diverse than ever; their “it’s just liberals telling lies” attitude about science in spite of the preview we have today of global disasters of drought and flooding.
In a way, I hope he wins the Republican nomination. He would be an easy opponent. But I do wonder if that could back-fire. I do have a realistic understanding of human nature. Never underestimate the power of playing to the worst in people. “This is democracy?!” Yes–some people make it so.