I’ve been seeing a lot of you’ve got to follow your dream movies lately. We saw Akeelah and the Bee together. I liked Laurence Fishburne in that. Talladega Nights was a film about a man who struggles hard to make a comeback. Okay, that’s not your typical follow your dream movie, but it’s the struggle that counts! This afternoon I saw Step Up with Emily and Molly. I will have to say that Jenna Dewan is highly sexy. I told that to Leslie, and she said I’d better watch out. Well Jenna Dewan is sexy and that’s all there is to it. Also, she can dance.
But what’s the relationship between a sexy dancer and wanting to be president? Nora pointedly asks Tyler, her dance partner in the move, what do you want? Just like that: what do you want? Well how can you escape the question when it is asked like that? You can’t dodge it or waffle or try the usual evasive techniques. You have to answer it. So I did. I said I want to be president. If I can’t be president, I want to go to Washington and make a difference. Now it gets a little complicated. I’m not sure I really want to go to Washington. So the general answer is, I want to work with the government to make a difference. That gets around all the implausibilities and impossibilities, I think. Anyway, that’s what I was thinking while I was watching the movie.
Here’s a simple argument about what’s going to happen. Sometime in the next decade, probably in 2016, the United States will elect a president who is not nominated by one of the two major parties. Citizens will elect that president partly because he is independent of the Republicans and the Democrats, but primarily because he formulates a vision of the country that can’t be found anywhere else. We certainly can’t expect a new or compelling vision for the country from the Republicans or the Democrats, given the direction they are currently heading. I agree with the people who say that they are beyond saving at this point. They can’t develop such a vision because they can’t recruit and develop leaders who want to and are able to lead that way. The leaders they recruit aren’t actually leaders.
That’s another argument, though. The thought has been taking up a place in my soul, if no one else formulates this vision, then you have to do it. You don’t have to understand how this vision is going to help you become president, or how it is going to help your country. You just have to know that it’s up to you. You can’t wait for someone else to do it. YOu are not going to save the country while your pen stays in your backpack. I don’t see how I’m going to help my country by sitting here scrawling on my legal pad, but at least I’ll have tried. I know I have to leave it up to God to figure out how this work will make a difference.
Now, formulating a vision for the country may seem like a big order, but we don’t have to start from scratch. We can start with Ronald Reagan. He took scattered stories, ideas, and traditions, and created his vision for the country, his dreams of America. He had a lot of material to begin with, but it was truly scattered. We may feel more impoverished, intellectually and politically, in our post-9/11 weltanschauung, but we have a more integrated vision to start with. Our job is to update Reagan’s vision for our own generation – to adapt it for the world as it exists after September 11.
The differences between the two worlds are big, so we have a big job ahead of us. I don’t want to dwell on the size of the differences, thought, or they will daunt us. We just want to note them, and move confidently into the realm of imagination where we ask two questions: where do we want to go, and how do we want to get there? When we have answered those questions, we’ll have a vision that is useful to leaders who want to lead. We’ll have a vision for leaders who want to serve our republic – the whole republic and not one party. That’s hard to do, but that’s what motivated patriots like Jefferson, Lincoln, and Reagan. They were divisive figures, to be sure, but the vision that moved them comprehended the entire republic, not just part of it.
So, what is the most obvious difference now? We have a different enemy in 2006. Reagan identified our enemies in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, and they lived in the Soviet Union. They ruled the Soviet Union and they meant us harm. His strategy in our struggle with the Soviet Union was simple, he said: “We win and they lose.” His strategy for victory had more to it than that, of course, but Reagan’s vision was the first to conceive of victory as something that could happen soon, during his watch, even. He dared to think things that others were too timid to think.
We have a different enemy now, and a different set of constraints make us timid in our thinking. We say that our enemies are terrorists, and the most prominent terrorist organization is called al Qaeda. It’s the most prominent because it carried out the 9/11 attacks against the United States. This organization, a network of networks, is a lot different from the Soviet Union. It’s goals are different, and it’s methods of operating are different. It’s vision of the world should they prevail in their struggle with the West is different from the vision the Soviet Union would have imposed had they prevailed in their struggle with West. The methods we have to use to defeat this enemy are far different from the methods we had to use to defeat the Soviet Union.
Where is the George F. Kennan of our generation? Where is the person who will accurately describe our enemy, then draw from that description the proper conclusions about the best way to defeat it? We are seriously off the track now, and I don’t see any wise men who can guide us back to the right road.
So let me pretend for a moment that I’m George Kennan…