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Herbert London: Why A Campaign Should Consider More Than Economic Issues

Bread and butter issues will undoubtedly be emphasized in this presidential campaign season. The unemployment rate, the need for jobs, the rapid growth in dependents, fiscal deficits and the enormous debt overhang will garner headlines in the weeks ahead. But there are other issues the nation must confront. While on some fronts the government cannot do much about them, campaigns are a venue for the airing of ideas, a time to educate and persuade.

There is little doubt the economy is teetering on the precipice of despair. The Republican team has an obligation to explain how it intends to fix or at least mitigate what ails us. It seems to me it is also time to discuss cultural degradation, a gravitational pull that is sinking American standards into the sinkhole of perversity. Increasingly media myrmidons push the envelope of acceptable behavior to a point where taboos themselves are called into question.

Clearly a government cannot and should not impose cultural standards on its citizenry. However when mephitic gases are in the air, protective devices are necessary. How does a nation defend its freedom when it is intoxicated by noxious fumes from television programs and Hollywood fare? I don’t expect Romney-Ryan to have a magic elixir for this contagion, but I do think it would be useful for the campaign to address and acknowledge this issue.

Similarly foreign policy matters rarely win campaigns. Voters prefer local issues and, after all, Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan are far-away places. But are they? The Obama team has little to say about foreign policy because with President Obama at the helm, the world is chaotic.

Iran is about to obtain sufficient refined fissile material to build several nuclear weapons.

Egypt is moving rapidly into the dictatorial hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Syria is in the throes of a civil war with at least 18,000 people killed by Assad.

Afghanistan is reverting back to control by the Taliban, despite heroic efforts by the U.S. military to halt this tide.

China is asserting its naval muscle by occupying contested islands in the South China sea.

North Korea threatens new nuclear tests.

And whether justified or not, the present administration has created an appearance of complacency, almost a casual belief that this mess will sort itself out without American intervention. This isn’t merely leading from behind; it is on allergy to leadership at all.

Romney-Ryan should emphasize the need for leadership to fulfill a yawning vacuum in international affairs. Most foreign nations fear U.S. weakness more than U.S. strength. Reestablishing that strength is a message this Republican team should convey, not only to assure Americans that we intend to fulfill our leadership role on the global stage, but to convince our allies that we haven’t abandoned them.

Last, as I see it, the presidential campaign should be a time to restore hope, notwithstanding the overuse of this word by Barak Obama in the last presidential campaign. Hope is the real harbinger of change. For years Americans have been beaten down from “malaise” to “decline.” It is time to remember our better nature, these animal spirits in our national DNA that offer pride and determination. We should embrace the future because we can shape it. Decline is indeed a choice and Romney-Ryan should say we reject it. America is not exceptional like other nations, it is the first among equals, the shining city on the hill that inspires freedom loving people everywhere.

We need a dose of optimism instead of emotional bandaids. And a campaign is when it is best to let this inspirational fury fly. Of course, there are the cynics who will reject this rhetoric as jingoism. But after the battering the American ethos has endured, it is time for optimism, time to rekindle the very character that goes to the heart of “we the people.” 

Herbert London is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.