Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ponnuru: McCain Should Play the Polk Card

Ramesh Ponnuru on National Review Online makes a case for John McCain. Ponnuru came out in the spring endorsing John McCain, which is significant for Ponnuru is a respected conservative author. Aside from the debacle with immigration, McCain has been a solid conservative, despite his cantankerous nature with the Right. Ponnuru is convinced that McCain is the most solid candidate for the Republicans, who can win in a general election. While Romney and Giuliani are leading the party polling right now, neither can overcome Hillary in the national polls. Moreover, their baggage (Mormonism and flip-flopping for Romney and pro-choice and no family values for Giuliani) may be too much of a burden for the national race. McCain brings none of that, except a long career in public service with a consistent record.

Ponnuru hits on a point I made a few months ago, that the party needs to think about an “interregnum”, someone who has the qualities of the past generation and the ability to bridge the party to the next generation. That bridge is of course, over the gulf of Dubyan or Cheneyan neo-conservatism that is killing our chances nationally.

Ponnuru cites that this is the first election since 1960 where we are coming out of two long presidencies (Truman/Ike in 48-60 and Clinton-Bush from 92-2008), and a “break” is really needed. This line of thinking means that the next president is likely to be a one-termer no matter what. And so, Ponnuru thinks McCain should come out with a one-term promise, to accomplish the main issues of his entire career, and pass the torch, the bridge, to the next leader…who could be a young vice-president.

It has been done before. James Polk, 11th President, ran on a one-term pledge, was a workaholic, and died shortly after his one-term. Polk ran a small platform and completed all of his goals, including “manifest destiny”, the hot potato of his day. Polk followed in the wake of a strong and reviled president, Andrew Jackson. The concept is very much the same for McCain…elder statesmen, coming in to clean up the mess of a long-term firebrand, and with a limited agenda.

More recently, in the example I cited months ago, was that of the Catholic Church, where the College of Cardinals selected an “interregnum” pope in Benedict XVI after the long reign of John Paul II. Benedict serves to enforce John Paul II’s hard work, add his own twist, and is old enough that it is unlikely that he will serve for 25 years. He is also a bridge, and so, the concept is not lost on people. Like Benedict, McCain can choose the best of the Republican Party platform, and leave behind the controversy with Bush. He can clean up the fine points enough for a younger successor (like Huckabee, or any number of young governors, like Mark Sanford of SC, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, or Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota) to take the helm.
Ponnuru believes the act of declaring a one-term pledge will make McCain’s opponents seem self-serving. I believe it is more the reality of our times, that with the middle east in turmoil, the climate wrecking havoc on our cities, energy shortages and dependence, and a polarized society, one term is all the next president can expect. Nonetheless, given his age and experience, McCain seems to be the best fit for a four-year overhaul of the government.

His original article can be found on


john marzan said...

i know the reasons ponnuru gave for his "one term presidency" proposal, but that would mean mccain virtually admitting that his age is an issue.
(at least that's the first thought that came to my mind when i heard ponnuru's unusual advice)

why should mccain shoot himself on the foot?

David and Fiona said...

I do not think it is an admittance of is more along the Polk idea that if you are a one-termer...with four clear goals, you do not have to worry about reelection, polling, or whatnot. You can run the board. Where Ponnuru gets it wrong however, is that in modern politics, the presidency is only 2 years long, and the other two are the lame duck period during election cycles.