In his first campaign, Ronald Reagan drew the fire of former San Francisco mayor and eminently “reasonable” Republican George Christopher when Reagan suggested that the U.S. should have declared war on North Vietnam so that, “the act of burning draft cards would be treasonable.”
In Christopher’s defense, his critique of Reagan may not have been motivated solely by an attempt to shield the radical Left of the 1960s. Indeed, the mayor’s further remarks may indicate that he saw draft dodging as a problem—but not one to be addressed by a war declaration:
How can we so lightly ask for a declaration of war just to contain a handful of local dissidents? If we can’t control this small group, how could we hope to engage in a widespread war with its atomic consequences? [emphasis added]
It is difficult (if not impossible) for anyone who did not live through the height of the Cold War to understand just how strongly held was the notion that any confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union would inevitably result in the use of nuclear weapons and the attendant destruction of the world. The nearest approximation in recent years may have been the height of the Global Warming frenzy when people were giving up aerosol spray in order to avoid their flesh bubbling off their skin. While the latter would take infinitely longer—and was exponentially more irrational—the basic motivation underlying Christopher’s (and others’) concerns was the same as that stoking the fire Global Climate Change: fear.
While there is such a thing as “healthy fear” (e.g., not pointing an “empty” gun barrel at someone’s head and pulling the trigger, just in case…) political leaders frequently seem to struggle with identifying the line between healthy fear and outright cowardice.
Reagan may have been wrong on this issue…but one thing he certainly wasn’t was fearful of expressing an opinion. He was not too shy to declare that the emperor had no clothes on. How refreshing it is to hear someone say what they mean and mean what they say. In large part, this explains the remarkable passion evidenced in the Ron Paul for President movement. If ever there was a non-telegenic personality it is Dr. Paul. Nonetheless people from across the fruited plain are willing to expend large amounts of time and money to further his campaign. Similar dynamics were at work in the ill-fated Cain campaign, and may yet help to re-spark the Bachmann campaign. Contrast this with the carefully measured and moderate rhetoric of individuals such as Sen. McCain and Gov. Romney. In light of today’s reports that high-level GOP leaders are fearful of criticizing the man who’s presided over a whole host of “unprecedented” (to use a favorite Obamaism) debacles, it makes one realize how little some in the GOP have learned.
The same candidate Christopher who warned GOP primary voters in 1965 about “extremists in politics, [who] endanger all positive action by government,” went on to scold the upstart Reagan for lack of deference to his political betters:
I hope our gubernatorial election will not embark on a reckless expedition of second-guessing our national policy.
Not surprisingly, I must differ with the good mayor. My prayer is that we have a great deal more second-guessing of our national policies. Perhaps we could even start reading some of those policies prior to voting on them.