Skip to comments.The Courage Factor
Posted on 08/31/2004 11:19:32 AM PDT by COURAGE
August 31, 2004OP-ED COLUMNIST
The Courage FactorBy DAVID BROOKS
ohn McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger are the big stars of the first two days of the Republican convention, but they didn't get their prime-time slots because they're moderates. If the Republican Party had wanted to play up the moderate angle, they'd have put together the same sort of multihued and gender-balanced schmaltzfest they did in 2000. McCain, Giuliani and Schwarzenegger are speaking because they are brave.
I don't know if you have noticed, but this whole campaign has revolved around courage. From the day Howard Dean took on the feckless Democratic establishment, through John Kerry's military-drenched convention, through McCain's and Giuliani's speeches last night, the key questions of this race have been: Who has political courage? Who's willing to fight? Who has the resolve to lead in times of war?
McCain, Giuliani and Schwarzenegger are featured because they embody the brand of courageous conservatism the party has sought to project since 9/11. First, they are clear and self-confident in their beliefs. McCain has written that in prison he learned to trust his own judgment, and that while he has made mistakes, they have not been the mistakes of self-doubt. For the first prerequisite of this brand of political courage is to be steady amid a barrage of criticism.
Second, they know their own minds. McCain sees himself as a Teddy Roosevelt-style reformer. Schwarzenegger has an unshakable belief in economic freedom. One gets the impression they would sacrifice everything before betraying these creeds. One of Giuliani's favorite quotations comes from Abraham Lincoln: "I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end, when I come to lay down the reins of power, I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside me."
Third, they are obsessed with character. When they talk about problems, they talk about selfishness and dishonor. Mayor Giuliani was never so aggressive as when somebody had violated his sense of decency. Once McCain finds corrupt malefactors - like the people who concocted an outrageous Boeing defense contract - he latches onto them with his teeth and he will not let go.
Finally, they are most alive in the midst of the fray. Theodore Roosevelt once declared, "Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords." All three approach their various crusades with relish. Giuliani made New York governable by launching one crusade after another until he finally exhausted everyone around him. If Schwarzenegger speaks tonight the way he has in the past, you will see a man who, far from feeling burdened by the cares of the budget wars, is actually having a gas.
There is something chivalric and archaic about this form of political courage. Churchill and Thatcher had it, so did T.R. But today it is disdained in schools, where gentler virtues are held dear. And the movement-dominated organizations that now dominate our politics hate it. It's no accident Schwarzenegger, McCain and Giuliani are Republican renegades. Fiercely independent and self-reliant, they're viewed with suspicion by the litmus-test boys. Conservative activists actually campaigned against Giuliani in his 1993 mayoral race because he wasn't right on abortion and other conservatively correct issues.
But despite a generation of enlightened edification, this sort of archaic courage still seems to inspire people. This is not the golden age of manliness, but Schwarzenegger, Giuliani and McCain are three of the most popular figures in America today.
And they are here in New York to say that George Bush is fighting the war against radical Islam with their sort of tenacity, their sort of constancy. For ultimately, they are suggesting that whatever mistakes he has made, he has the courage that is required, and his opponent does not.
If Sept. 11 had not happened, I doubt McCain, Giuliani and Schwarzenegger would be as intertwined with George Bush as they have been. But it did happen. And whatever their cultural and personal differences, they do see eye to eye on the global conflict with radical Islam.
The coming weeks will be so tough because the essential contest - of which the Swift boat stuff was only a start - will be over who really has courage, who really has resolve, and who is just a fraud with a manly bearing.
Thank you, Cowardly Lion !