Dissatisfaction with the available options for the 2012 Presidential election appears to be the subject of broad bi-partisan agreement. Just today there are calls for Hillary
to challenge Obama on the Democrat side and Ross Douthat's NYT column this week speaks of the GOP's "empty stage.
At Powerline, Steve Hayward
--though not subscribing to the notion that the GOP stage is entirely "empty" (he also likes Pawlenty and Daniels)--suggests that Paul Ryan ought to take more seriously the idea that he has the stuff to step up onto it. He suggests that Ryan consider that even though he's armed with a healthy list of reasons to be reluctant (a list that any casual observer of the political scene could compose) the humbling reality of political life is that, "one can't choose one's moments in politics." That is absolutely true. The right man at the right time is never going to have every other conceivable circumstance flowing along in a way that might be considered "right" for him.
If it were true that the right man for the right time would have no other outside obstacles to his emergence on the scene, all that would be required of democratic statesmanship in a republic would be to sit back and let it happen as part of the natural order of things. Persuasion and politics--as we know and understand it--would be unnecessary. It would be something akin to what some observers mistakenly believed about the emergence of Obama: he appeared and the revelation that he was "the one" captivated the people as he was the culmination of our political history.
Except it didn't quite happen like that. Obama has found that "natural kings" (or, even, world historical ones) are stuck with the necessity of having to persuade a majority in this Republic. When they don't work effectively at persuasion or they imagine that their work--upon winning--is done, they may get along for awhile . . . but it's usually a safe bet that they will overstep the limits of consent and that, as a consequence, they will suffer a rebuke. This is what happened to Obama in November and he's been flailing around trying to regroup ever since. Some combination of circumstance and his own efforts may prove Obama up to the challenge of this regrouping. But the mask of invincibility is gone and he has had to engage in politics--that is, a more serious effort at persuasion including taking positions rather than mouthing vagaries. World historical presidents turn out to be just as vulnerable as the workaday variety when operating within the confines of regime where the people are sovereign.
When considered from that point of view, I think Steve is right to suggest that Ryan may have no other choice but to run come this fall. As he puts it, "I can imagine a set of circumstances in which his budget proposal gets
little traction against White House intransigence, and by the fall the
political winds are such that entering the race makes so much sense that
he has to do it." If Ryan is in Washington because of his ideas (and, as he has often said, there is no other reason to be there
) then it may be that he has to run this gauntlet for the sake of those ideas. That is to say, his running may be the only way to guarantee that we are even having the right conversation in the coming election; the only way to guarantee that the other side confronts his arguments. We cannot afford to keep postponing this conversation until it is convenient for our best interlocutors to have it.