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Calm, Cool, Collected?

May 12, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 33 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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It's mature to be calm. Republicans are nothing if not mature. It’s chic to be cool. Republicans yearn to be chic. It’s a sign of gravitas to be collected. Republicans have gravitas. And so Republicans, from candidates to consultants to commentators, cultivate a calm, cool, and collected affect. Keep calm and carry on, they say soberly and sagely to each other.

AP PHOTO / LEDERHANDLER

AP PHOTO / LEDERHANDLER

Which is fine if you’re in the midst of the struggle, and your forces are already fully committed to the fight. But if you’re rallying your troops, and trying to persuade others that they need to join the fight, it’s not so great to be calm, cool, and collected. You need energy more than sobriety. You need blood, sweat, and tears. You need a punching bag more than a yoga mat.

Republicans are on the eve of the fight of a lifetime. Winning control of the Senate in November is necessary to mitigate the damage the Obama administration can do in its final two years. And winning the presidency in 2016 is everything. Because it’s really not clear that limited and constitutional self-government at home, and American world leadership, can survive a third Democratic term in the White House.

That is an alarming prospect. So it should be permissible for Republicans to sound alarmed. It won’t even make them unrespectable. Paul Revere was a well-established and well-regarded businessman. He wasn’t embarrassed to sound the alarm that awakened his fellow citizens to impending danger, and it didn’t hurt his subsequent reputation.

Bill Buckley was an elegant writer and a gentleman. But in 1955 he founded National Review, announcing that it would stand athwart History, yelling Stop. Not whispering Stop. Not recommending Stop. Not making the case for Stop. Yelling Stop.

Ronald Reagan was the most successful Republican and the most successful conservative politician of recent decades. He was friendly and avuncular. But that didn’t make him a shrinking violet. Here he is, accepting the Republican presidential nomination in 1980:

Never before in our history have Americans been called upon to face three grave threats to our very existence, any one of which could destroy us. We face a disintegrating economy, a weakened defense, and an energy policy based on the sharing of scarcity.

The major issue of this campaign is the direct political, personal, and moral responsibility of Democratic party leadership—in the White House and in Congress—for this unprecedented calamity which has befallen us. They tell us they have done the most that humanly could be done. They say that the United States has had its day in the sun; that our nation has passed its zenith. They expect you to tell your children that the American people no longer have the will to cope with their problems; that the future will be one of sacrifice and few opportunities.

My fellow citizens, I utterly reject that view. The American people, the most generous on earth, who created the highest standard of living, are not going to accept the notion that we can only make a better world for others by moving backwards ourselves. Those who believe we can have no business leading the nation.

I will not stand by and watch this great country destroy itself under mediocre leadership that drifts from one crisis to the next, eroding our national will and purpose. We have come together here because the American people deserve better from those to whom they entrust our nation’s highest offices, and we stand united in our resolve to do something about it.

That’s a call to arms. Some might even call it a bit alarmist. Reagan won the election—and America won the Cold War.

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