“This is not about guns. This is about evil. Here at home, and evil abroad.”
No GOP candidate for president has yet used those words but I hope some and perhaps all of them will before a week or more passes. I do not fault any of them as they have waited on Governor Haley to make her declaration about the flag of the Confederacy that flies on the grounds of the South Carolina state house. Governor Haley’s actions and words Monday were powerful because they were not the consequence of demands made on her by her colleagues from other states, but because she, as the leader of a sovereign state, acted to do the right thing. In a federal system, this is the correct order of things, and the GOP candidates who waited on Governor Haley demonstrated the very sort of presidential leadership we should hope for come 2017 –one that recognizes the governors and their states as partners in a federal system, not errand-runners of a New Rome.
Now, though, the would-be presidents ought to heed Michael Gerson’s advice delivered on Face the Nation Sunday.
When I was asked to be on Sunday’s FTN panel, I had gladly accepted because the new host John Dickerson is a pro admired throughout media and especially because I have just put out a new book about Hillary Clinton and the GOP field, The Queen: The Epic Ambition of Hillary and the Coming of a Second “Clinton Era.” I of course hadn’t anticipated being part of a discussion on a national tragedy, one of the worst events of our country’s life since 9/11.
I was smart enough to attend Mass Sunday morning at The Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle before FTN taped, and so had the benefit of prayer and of hearing a tremendous sermon that helped prepare me for the discussion that was ably led by Dickerson and in which I, Gwen Ifill, David Ignatius and Michael Gerson participated.
Gwen Ifill had also been to church that morning –Metropolitan AME in D.C.– and had also heard a sermon preached on the portion of the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark that follows a few lines after those which the martyrs of Emmanuel AME had been studying Wednesday night. The lines my priest and her pastor dwelt on, Mark 4: 35-41, are about Jesus calming the storm and rebuking the apostles for not having faith and for being afraid. The GOP candidates ought to be thinking about calming words now, and about rebuking fear and inspiring hope.
In the course of our conversation Sunday, The Post’s Michael Gerson urged the GOP field to step up and into the conversation about violence and race in America, and I completely agree. They ought to be thinking about being very clear that the discussion of guns is not the right discussion, and that various proposals of gun control are not responsive to the two-sided crisis of violence we face –violence in our streets and homes and the looming threat of terrorism which is again peaking as the Islamic State and its allies launch a thousand appeals for wanton killing in the name of their fanatical beliefs. Even as they speak about the events that stretch from the killing of Trayvon Martin through the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and other events through to the carnage of last week, they have to keep reminding people that terrorists want nothing more than an American body count far in excess of what happened last week, and that they are positioning themselves to gain that objective.
Philip Rucker of the Washington Post wrote yesterday that Mrs. Clinton has declared “We have to face hard truths about race, violence, guns and division.” Of course she has done nothing of the sort, choosing instead to issue a string of cliches and a broadside at Donald Trump —to which he responded on my show yesterday.
But that Mrs. Clinton is trying to politicize the event should not deter Republican leaders from stepping up to meet Gerson’s challenge. They ought to have thought about these issues and have some very clear ideas on root causes and the first step towards inevitably incomplete solutions. One of those partial solutions is the revitalization of schools as places of character-building and of example-setting. That means massive recruiting of real men of virtue to model lives well-lived for boys who so often veer off course into lives of wasted potential and sometimes awful violence. It also means protecting and nurturing the churches of America from the winds of popular culture and shaming elite opinion that would reduce them to reflections of the real thing. It means “cheerleading” from the White House of the sort Trump alluded to yesterday, not the jarring use of the worst word in the language.
It means a lot of things, and the GOP candidates who meet the challenge to speak honestly, at length, and with genuine passion on these topics will be seen by the GOP electorate to have the qualities of purposefulness, political combativeness and truth-telling necessary to counter the Hillary machine and the MSM’s Greek chorus chanting her virtues and the cliches she mouths.
Governor Haley did and said the right things Monday, and impressively so. Now we should hope the GOP field realizes it is rightly their turn to do the same.