As another round of presidential debates materializes and the Democrats compare themselves to JFK and the Republicans to Ronald Reagan, one thing is for sure: None of the current candidates measures up to either man.
Twenty years after he left office, Ronald Reagan's name was evoked 21 times in the recent GOP debate. Not surprisingly, George W. Bush's name never came up. Indeed, all of the GOP candidates went to great lengths to distance themselves from Dubya, even going so far as to stage the debates in a library.
GOP primary politics is all about bowing to the religious right. It is more about the chemistry of litmus tests than political science. It is not about new ideas but spinning a candidate's past record to reflect what zealous primary voters want to hear about: God, guns, and gays and fighting radical Islam in the name of God — our God, of course.
To appease the vocal fundamentalist Christian leaders (who no more speak for Christians than Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton do for African Americans), the GOP has abandoned its main appeal to the majority of Republicans. (Remember fiscal responsibility, free-market economics, minimal government, and personal responsibility?)
The most telling highlight of the GOP debate was when the 10 candidates were asked, "Who does not believe in evolution?" The strongest hawks in the race — Tom Tancredo, Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, and Sam Brownback — raised their non-webbed hands. These men, who do not believe in evolution because the Bible told them so, clearly distinguished themselves as the men that we want to fight our enemies: the backward religious zealots in the Muslim world who seek to destroy us based on their interpretation of an ancient book.
Playing blissfully coy as the GOP candidates start to look foolish sits former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson. This University of Memphis grad seems poised to grab center stage at the time of his choosing.
By contorting themselves to appeal to the base of the GOP (that 26 percent who believe George W. Bush is "doing a heckuva job"), the 10 GOP candidates have opened the door for Newt Gingrich or Thompson to take a shot at stepping up and grabbing the nomination. Either of these men seems more electable than Rudy Giuliani, the current leading candidate, who uses "9/11" more than John Edwards uses the reminder that his dad was a mill worker. The trouble I have with the former New York City mayor is not his marriages (he supposedly has a trophy wife; I have seen her, and it was apparently not first prize) but that I cannot determine what he did before and after 9/11 that anyone else could not have done.
To truly grab the baton from Ronald Reagan should be simple: Embrace minimal government, stupid. That is what most of us want. We do not want to be made to fear an enemy that may not exist. We do not want to be made to endure the "healing touch" of big government in matters such as Katrina and Iraq. We know that individuals, not government, make this country great. We need a president who will get out of the way and let private enterprise and the individual do what they do best. No one believed more in the individual spirit than Reagan.
By ignoring Reagan's mantra of limited government, modern-day Republicans will continue to send this country on a downward spiral with deficit spending on pork, expensive wars on dubious "government intelligence," and creating a sense of fear that they proclaim only they can free us from.
America has not rejected the fundamental tenants of conservative or libertarian ideas in favor of the socialist stylings of the Democrats. The new, big-government Republicans who spend like the Democrats that they so disparage are the reason the GOP is vulnerable. They have abandoned their fundamental values and hide behind religion when convenient. No longer can they blame Bill Clinton for everything. Clinton ruined a dress; he did not ruin the country.
Ron Hart is a columnist and investor in Atlanta. He worked for Goldman Sachs and was appointed to the Tennessee Board of Regents by Lamar Alexander. Hise-mail: RevRon10@aol.com.