“Class, who can tell me what ‘incongruous’ means?”

A student quickly raises his hand. “Johnny?”

“That’s where our laws are made!”

Matt, in a comment to a recent post, points out that the point of Rep. Rangel’s tax reform proposal is probably not economic growth and may not even be greater equality. It may simply be political grandstanding to appeal to a part of the party’s base. Today’s Wall Street Journal lead editorial makes a similar point about the questioning and now obstruction of the appointment of Judge Michael Mukasey as Attorney General. Do the Democrats threatening the appointment over Judge Mukasey’s unwillingness to commit to holding waterboarding illegal really oppose waterboarding? Perhaps they do. If so, they could always outlaw it. But given its demonstrated effectiveness in breaking high-ranking terrorists, perhaps they don’t. Certainly they don’t want to become known as the Terrorists’ Rights Party. Waterboarding some captured terrorists has already yielded information that has very likely saved thousands of lives. Instead, they want to appeal to the part of the base that refuses to recognize tradeoffs—about interrogation techniques, about confinement of terrorists, about privacy, or pretty much about anything.

There is something deeply incongruous about the seriousness of the situation we face in battling terrorism and the unseriousness of many of our representatives, who view the struggle primarily as a way of scoring political points. Al-Qaeda has theorized that democracies are fundamentally unserious, which weakens them severely against a committed opponent willing to sustain a long-term fight. We shouldn’t scoff at that view; Plato and Aristotle would probably have agreed. Studying the examples of Britain and France in the 1930s provides little encouragement. They did not awake to the seriousness of the danger posed by Germany until Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, at which point the balance of power shifted strongly in Germany’s favor. For France, that was too late. For Britain, it nearly was.

I would like to think that we have at least a few statesmen who may act like politicians most of the time but who will rise to the occasion and act for the good of the country rather than their own political fortunes when the chips are down. Where is our Churchill? That’s my first question in thinking about the Presidential candidates of both parties. Who will face our enemies with the seriousness it takes to defeat them?

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