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The importance of being serious

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Waiting until Sunday night to file a Monday column puts stress on editors, and I try not to do it. But I waited this week until shortly before 5 P.M. Pacific time, as I was genuinely concerned that the jihadists had in fact organized something to wreak havoc on our national celebration.

My friends inside the intelligence community and within the Congress and with access to most of the highly classified material on the “threat stream” were deeply concerned, and in a way they had not been before, not since the days after 9/11.

So I waited, and late Sunday afternoon began to breathe easier, and to turn again to the World Cup, the Cavs’ free agent signings, the aftermath of the Greek bailout vote. I had not changed a thing about my routine for the Fourth, but I suspect many did, and with good reason. Courage is not a reckless absence of fear, but rather the ability to act in the face of it. Americans have much to fear.

Mostly they need not fear the Islamic State, or even the prospect of a nuclear Iran so much as they do our own fundamental lack of seriousness. In just the week past I watched (1) another intramural blood-letting among GOP operatives and conservative commentators, (2) a compliant press roped off by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s minions, and (3) an online assault on Jake Tapper for a lack of diversity on his month-old Sunday show — even after Tapper had just interviewed Bernie Sanders.

The disease infecting both far Right and far Left is this incredible myopia about what actually matters, a myopia that combines with the need by fourth-tier voices to amplify their complaints in order to make a living and a reputation by attracting attention via clicks. It all results in a bizarre elevation of the absurd into the place of the important with a concomitant degradation of the important into “below the fold” status.

Some of the GOP candidates are taking very seriously the need to argue their cases about serious subjects, and they are being rewarded. By far the two candidates most accessible to me have been Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz, which reflects their general availability to answer any and all questions from all comers — and the rewards they are reaping are large.

Scott Walker is only slightly less available, as is Rick Perry. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio among the first tier of candidates make appearances but still err on the attempt to control the message rather than answer the public’s deep desire to know (1) who is both serious, prepared and possessed of excellent communication skills and (2) who can beat Hillary? My show is open to all 16 GOP candidates every single week between now and Iowa. Keep count for yourself who cares to engage and to answer the hardest questions, which I routinely try and pose. Not ambush questions, but difficult ones: Is Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi our most important ally in the region after Israel? Will you enforce the federal drug laws and if not, why not? Would you urge Republican senators to invoke the “Reid Rule” to repeal Obamacare root and branch if it was necessary to do so?

This cycle is so different than any that has gone before it. The Democrats are saddled with a dreadful candidate, burdened by a catastrophic tenure at the Department of State. Sixteen incredibly interesting and all talented-in-different-ways Republicans are running. But for one to emerge from the 16 in a position to beat the presumptive nominee and prohibitive favorite, they will have to earn votes in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and beyond, and that means lots of questions asked and answered, every day, from serious people.

The recipe for winning is out there. Who will take it? Seriousness, transparency, competence with a broad array of difficult issues and detailed plans they are willing to share.

 

This column was originally posted on WashingtonExaminer.com.

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