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A Time for Choosing

Jan 2, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 16 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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To the Republicans of the states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida:

State flags

Clockwise from left: State flags of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida

At this moment of great peril for our nation, you have the privilege of beginning the process of selecting the 2012 Republican presidential nominee—the individual who will save us from the ghastly prospect of an Obama second term, and who will then have the task of beginning to put right our listing ship of state, setting our nation on a course to restored solvency, reinvigorated liberty, and renewed greatness.

Your responsibility is great. Your votes will affect which candidates survive January’s electoral gauntlet, their likelihood of ultimately prevailing, and even whether others will feel impelled to enter the race. You, the voters of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida, will shape the range of choices for your fellow citizens elsewhere in the nation in this crucial year.

How should you decide for whom to vote?

Vote for the person you think would be the best president of the United States. Ignore the proclamations of the pundits, the sophistries of the strategists, and the calculations of the handicappers. Ignore the ads, the robocalls, and the polls. Be skeptical of those who would seek, whether from national stage or local perch, cavalierly or presumptively to instruct you how to mark your ballot. That ballot is yours alone to cast.

Here the people rule. So you, the Republicans of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida, can step back, consider the individual candidates in the totality of their public lives, study their records and platforms, judge their abilities and views, imagine each of them in the Oval Office making major decisions for the nation .  .  . and choose the individual who you think should be our next president.

As Hamilton puts it in Federalist #1:

The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than .  .  . the safety and welfare of the [Union], the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world. It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.

The crisis of 2012 isn’t the crisis of 1787. But it is still a crisis. It is not a moment to be swayed by capricious accident or compelled by political force to a wrong election of the part we shall act. It is a moment for reflection and choice.

And it is a moment, as you prepare to cast your vote, for others to reflect on whether they don’t owe it to their country to step forward. As this is no time for voters to choose fecklessly, it is no time for leaders to duck responsibility. Those who have stood aside—and who now may have concluded, as they may not have when they announced their original decision, that the current field is lacking—will surely hear the words of Thomas Paine echoing down the centuries: “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Now is not a time for leaders to engage in clever calculations of the odds of success, or to succumb to concerns about how they will look if they enter the fray and fall short. Now is a time to come to the aid of our country.

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