The most exciting political essay of the summer has it exactly right â€” we are in desperate need of boring political leaders. Writing in National Review magazine, Kevin D. Williamson makes a â€śCase for the Boring Politician.â€ť
â€śThe most boring president of the modern era probably was Dwight Eisenhower, whose administration was marked by relative peace, prosperity, and confidence in the effectiveness and integrity of our institutions,â€ť Williamson writes. â€śThe most boring president ever surely was Calvin Coolidge, who pinched pennies and kept at his plow, more or less leaving the country free to go about its own business, which turned out to be an excellent economic program.â€ť
Compare these men to our most â€śexcitingâ€ť presidents.
â€śJohn Kennedy, who was privately corrupt and publicly inept; Richard Nixon, who was privately corrupt and publicly corrupt; Bill Clinton, who combined the worst features of Kennedy and Nixon, adding a distasteful dose of sanctimony to the mix,â€ť Williamson writes.
This matters right now because the GOP field of possible presidential candidates is emerging. There are two kinds of candidates in Williamsonâ€™s world â€”the exciting and the boring. Coincidentally, they can also be broken down into senators and governors. The lists match. And itâ€™s a useful dichotomy.
â€śThe Senate, particularly if you are in the minority, is a place to make speeches, to think big thoughts and construct grand philosophies â€” which, in anything but the smallest of doses, constitutes vice,â€ť he said. â€śTalk to a senator from any party or political tendency, and you can count on an interesting conversation. Governors? Dead boring.â€ť
And that is a virtue.
â€śA senator, especially a senator in the minority, never has to compromise; under Harry Reidâ€™s management, Republican senators really canâ€™t do very much, so they donâ€™t do very much â€” other than make exciting speeches. Thereâ€™s no upside to doing anything else,â€ť Williamson contends. â€śGovernors, on the other hand, have to do things â€” they have to run their states. Some of them, like Scott Walker, of Wisconsin, have to work with Democrat-dominated states and electorates that do not vote very much like Texans or Oklahomans. When something exciting happens to a governor, itâ€™s generally bad news. The best executive operations are like the best technology: When itâ€™s working right, you hardly even know that itâ€™s there.â€ť
Closer to home, we see this dynamic working out in the Governorâ€™s Mansion. Gov. Rick Perry is at his best when heâ€™s leaving Texans alone to go about their business in a low-tax, low-regulation environment. He gets into trouble when he tries to do something exciting â€” such as mandating that all Texas schoolgirls get HPV vaccinations.
On the national scale, economists agree that the thing slowing the U.S. recovery to a crawl is uncertainty â€” companies arenâ€™t hiring much because they donâ€™t know whatâ€™s coming out of Washington next. Thatâ€™s what comes of an â€śexcitingâ€ť administration.
â€śI donâ€™t need to be inspired and donâ€™t desire to be awed or ruled,â€ť Williamson said. â€śI want what has been missing these past years: a responsible, sober, honest, predictable federal government, one that recognizes its own limits.â€ť
Heâ€™s exactly right.