As a candidate for the presidency some time ago, this man noted that unlike the “generation of Americans who stormed beaches, liberated concentration camps, and delivered us from evil,” today Americans are called to perform “small, unnumbered acts of caring and courage and self-denial.”
Would it surprise you to hear that the year was 2000, and it was George W. Bush who spoke those words? The events of 9/11 changed the world that Mr. Bush described when he was only the nominee for president, and whatever pre-9/11 plans he had for his presidency have taken a back seat to greater and graver challenges.
Just as generals prepare to fight the last war instead of the next, we usually elect presidential candidates to handle the challenges that bedeviled the previous administration. Instead of proposing specific ways to ensure the solvency of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, for instance, we get economically misguided calls from one candidate to “stop outsourcing jobs.” As a card-carrying Republican, the other candidate calls for “less government interference” in our lives, despite his key role in greatly expanding the size of the Federal government over the past four years.
Throughout our history we’ve had wise and politically astute presidents, and intellectually challenged, politically asinine leaders. But even a political genius like Roosevelt couldn’t solve the Depression: World War II did. Even a nuclear physicist like Jimmy Carter couldn’t parlay his brilliance into becoming an effective leader, despite his big heart and good intentions.