Campaign 2008: Choosing a Wartime President

Arthur Bruzzone

August 2006

SAN FRANCISCO, Ca --- Not even the most ardent supporters of President George W. Bush would claim he was elected to be a wartime president.  G.W. Bush campaigned as a domestic president, intent to lower taxes, improve education and bring compassion to conservative politics.  He hoped, and he expected, to deal with the economy, taxes, education, medicare and social security reform.

In two years, for the 2008 presidential race, that will not be the case.  The country will be seeking a wartime president.

The honeymoon following the defeat of the Soviet Union lasted just ten years.  President Bush believed he would be able to concentrate on domestic issues, like his predecessor. 

But Bush, along with the nation, was been thrust into a new war. The new enemy is ruthless, stateless, and effective --- they attacked the homeland. So, the voters in 2008 will be choosing a wartime president.

What then makes an effective wartime president, and how does the current field of candidates measure up.

First and foremost, a wartime president is Commander-in-Chief.  The people expect a wartime president to understand the principles of military strategy and principles.  More important, they also expect he or she will successfully protect the country.  They want a president that doesn't  just listen to the Joint Chiefs of Staff; but in a real sense leads the armed forces. From George Washington through Ronald Reagan (who indeed campaigned as a wartime president), each had the intellectual tenacity and moral will to lead the nation's military to victory.  But they also understood the battlefield reports, and stuck to a strategy for victory.

Winner:  John McCain.  McCain is the only candidate who has a proven military record, who comes from a military family, and without effort speaks intelligently and coherently in military terms.

Second, a wartime president must communicate with the people. He, or she, must be able to report on the ups and downs of the battlefield. The Civil War was a grueling and bloody ordeal. For years, the U.S. Civil War war was an effective stalemate, with each side posting significant victories, followed by setbacks.  A wartime president must be able to sustain the country's will to persist. 

A wartime president must also be able to intimidate the enemy and express a unwavering and reasoned belief in ultimate victory.  In the current situation, with a media blanket to report on specific battles and incidents, a wartime president faces challenges unimaginable just forty years ago.  The media itself becomes a battlefield to be won or lost.

Winner:  Rudy Giuliani.  By his behavior as Mayor of New York he showed natural skills to calm the city and nation, display guarded optimism in the future, and performed most effectively before the scrutiny of the media.

Third a wartime president must exude rugged determination.  War is by nature exhausting and trying, for the individual soldier, and for the nation.  The people expect their president to be a model of determination. They expect a fact-grounded unflappability. 

Winners:  Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, and John McCain.  Clinton in her demeanor (which also poses a negative) shows toughness and seriousness.   The nation cannot forget her poise throughout her husband's marital difficulties.  Giuliani distinguished himself as both a battle-harden prosecutor of organized crime and as the mayor of the city attacked during 9-1-1.   McCain proved his inner fortitude as a prisoner of war and combat pilot.

There are certainly other qualities that make a successful wartime president.  But these are essential. 

Recent polls show that the American people are consciously or unconsciously eyeing the expected potential 2008 presidential candidates within the backdrop of our on terrorists/radical Muslims.  Both Rudy Giuliani and John McCain would probably beat Hillary Clinton by seven to nine points if the election were held today.   (FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll. May 16-18, 2006)

But much will transpire over the next two years.  The ultimate victor will be tested through tough televised debates, convention speeches, and the dynamics of the primaries.  Campaign 2008 will itself be a battle in which each candidate will demonstrate why he or she will be able to be a successful wartime president.

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