Thursday, July 9, 2009
Haley Barbour ‘most competent politician’
Five or so years ago I wrote that Haley Barbour should run for president. People laughed. They aren’t laughing now. The Washington Post is full of stories on the Haley presidential watch.
Washington Post political columnist Chris Cillizza recently wrote about Barbour’s small D.C. strategy sessions with key Republican players: “Barbour, who has served in a variety of top political positions including chairman of the Republican National Committee, is a well known commodity to the professional political class in Washington and probably doesn’t need to do the sort of introductions that, say, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty might.
“Still, Barbour is smart to do these sorts of sessions since they ensure that the inside-the-Beltway buzz surrounding his potential candidacy will keep up.
“And, just in case you needed more evidence that Barbour is considering a run for national office in 2012, check out his schedule over the next two days: fund-raising stops in New Hampshire and Iowa!”
The Republican wannabes are dropping like flies. It’s almost uncanny how the field is opening up for Barbour.
Haley Barbour is the most competent politician I have been exposed to, and I’ve seen quite a few. Nobody could run the country better.
Every year at the Mississippi media Christmas party, I corner Gov. Barbour in the governor’s mansion: “It is your moral obligation to run for president,” I nag him. “You know that nobody else could run the country better. You’ve got to do it whether you want to or not.”
Every year he hems and haws. For a while, his standard answer was, “I’m on hurricane duty.” I accepted that for a while.
I know that he knows that what I’m saying is true. A man like Haley Barbour would never verbally admit to such conceit. I can see it in his eyes.
I remember the first time I met Bill Clinton, he was just a kid governor from Arkansas. He’s going to be president, I declared. People still come up and remind me of this prediction. How did you know?
Fifteen years ago, when Trent Lott was a senator, I wrote in this column that he could almost be president, but he was just a little too structured. Lott ended up leading the Senate, the third most powerful man in the country.
When I first heard Obama speak, I said to myself. “That’s it. The Democrats have their star. He’ll be the next president.”
No doubt, many other political observers can make the same claim. It’s not that hard. Tennis experts knew Roger Federer was going to be great long before he won his first Wimbledon. You know it when you see it.
The first clue is the ability to speak off the cuff with complete authority and command of the facts, without making gaffs. Clinton, Obama and Barbour all have this ability. But Barbour exudes the most sheer competence of them all. Second, you have to clearly exhibit ability. True, Barbour’s average height and a bit pudgy. So what? Most voters can identify with that. Look at Grover Cleveland.
Southern accent? So what? Bill Clinton and George Bush have Southern accents. Bush would lay it on thicker when he was down South, which, by the way, is the fastest growing region of our country.
The beauty of the American political system is that ordinary voters, in the end, see through the glitz and can make the same judgment in character that the pundits make. We just see it a bit earlier because it’s part of our livelihood.
Competence? Look at how he handled the Hurricane Katrina response. Everybody in the nation knows that Barbour rose to the occasion. Compare that to the disaster in Louisiana. Compare that to the Bush administration’s Katrina response. Need I say more?
But there is more. Much more. When young Haley Barbour was chairman of the Republican Party, the Republicans captured the House, then the Senate, for the first time in 40 years. He was the true operative behind the phenomenal Reagan era Republican renaissance.
Look at how he’s run Mississippi. He was elected to the weakest governor’s office, constitutionally, in the nation. By sheer dint of will, character and competence, he’s now accused of running the state with an iron fist. Watching Billy McCoy try to do battle against Barbour is like watching Federer play me on grass. You really begin to understand the difference between the major leagues and the minors.
Barbour inherited a huge deficit and fixed it within a year and a half while spending record amounts on education. True, he had a nice economic tailwind, but even today Mississippi’s economic house is far more in order than most other states.
Long-range, it will be a decade before we truly appreciate Barbour’s foresight when Gulfport becomes a huge port on the scale of Houston and Los Angeles, employing 10 times the number of a Toyota plant (not Barbour’s best moment).
Talk about handling the media: Despite being heir to the Reagan legacy, mainstream liberal media portrays Barbour as a pragmatic moderate Republican. He has virtually no negatives other than his Big Tobacco connection, which the recent cigarette tax will conveniently dispel.
Competence does matter. Obama is smooth as silk and learns fast. Problem is simply this: His party has the wrong answer to many of our problems. Using bureaucrats to stimulate the economy is incredibly slow and inefficient. Adding more centralized federal commands to our health system is counter to the natural independence of our culture. Supporting Chavez sympathizers in their attempts to become dictators flies in the face of American defense of liberty. Shutting down our oil, gas and nuclear infrastructure in the hopes of windmills and solar panels is hopelessly unrealistic. And so on.
You would think the Democrats had it made. Blame the recession on the Republicans, wait for the typical turnaround and then claim credit for fixing the economy. But their boneheaded economic politics are so misguided and this recession so deep, the usual cyclical upturn may fail to materialize in time for the next election.
If that’s the case, the nation will turn to a man of stability, proven competence and impeccable conservative credentials, and Haley Barbour will occupy the White House.
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