Lech Wa??sa: Clarity and inspiration from Europe

This weekend, I was an attendee at the European Ideas Network, an annual 3 day seminar of center-right European politicians, think tankers, academics, and business leaders. There were sessions about a huge range of topics. I can’t imagine a similar forum in the states in either party.

One of the speakers was Lech Wa??sa, the former President of Poland. He is, perhaps, the last remaining great Cold War leader. His speech might have had a subject, but what I heard was moral clarity and a kind of leadership that you don’t see today. He started with a story about Pope John Paul II’s first visit to Poland after becoming Pope. He said that the KGB needed lessons about how to cross themselves like regular Poles. The fact that they could learn, that they could bring themselves to cross themselves, was a sign that athiestic communism could be defeated. Even KGB officers had to cross themselves; thus there was hope.

Here was a man who was there to settle deep, long-term, moral and existential questions, not technocratic ones. Would someone trust the electrician from Gdansk to fix the healthcare system? Probably not. He certainly had nothing to say about globalization and the challenges of today. He said this to a room of technocrats. Many of those technocrats thought he was a fossil, even if he was once inspiring.

It occurred to me while I was listening to that Wa??sa was the right man the for his time.  Ronald Reagan was also the right man for the right time. A time with 18% inflation, confiscatory taxes, a sense that the West was losing the Cold War, and a deep, deep malaise. He fixed all of those. (perhaps Volcker fixed the inflation…) Reagan left office in success. However, Wa??sa entered government in later, and, eventually, left office in 1995 in disgrace. Building a post-Soviet Poland was not a task that he was suited for.

This made me wonder what the various candidates on the GOP side were "the right candidates" for.

  • Rudy Giuliani is clearly the candidate of a muscular response to the War on Terror. There isn’t much subtlety in his policies, but that may just be the theater. Most likely, they will be somewhat generic Republican policies.
  • Mitt Romney is clearly the leader for a time of technocratic questions. He celebrates burying himself in data and comes up with answers. He is not the candidate that you want to lead a country at war. He still strikes me as the sort of person you want to be chief of staff. Brilliant administrator. He is probably the right guy for our country if our biggest concerns are economic ones. Trivialities about foreign policy, but probably good ideas about taxes and, even, healthcare.
  • John McCain is the candidate of a more nuanced approach to the War on Terror. Respected around the world, but in a way that would provide a very robust response to our international challenges. He is also someone to speak to a country that is at a loss about itself and its institutions. But many of his domestic policies are unclear. Healthcare? Taxes? He had made clear that these don’t drive him.
  • Fred Thompson is, perhaps, the candidate who narrowly wants the party to get more conservative. I am not sure.

Which candidate is the candidate for today? For today’s Republican party, I see Giuliani and McCain being the most natural answers. For a party that wants to step back from Bush’s interventionism — back to putting education, healthcare and immigration on the front burner like the pre-9/11 Bush — Romney would be the answer. I don’t think that’s where the party is.