The past three months have seen an odd turn in the presidential primary process in both parties — a turn away from the key issues confronting the United States and toward emotional and social vapor. The success of the surge in Iraq, coupled with the bizarre “we’re safe” reading of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, drained some of the passion from the anti-war fervor in the Democratic primary electorate and from the hawkish fervor of the Republican primary electorate. In their place came the Christian identity-politics rise of Mike Huckabee on the Republican side and the “we need a nice new politics” rise of Barack Obama on the Democratic side. Republicans squabbled about sanctuary cities and sanctuary mansions. Democrats squabbled about how many uninsured there would be left if their various health-care plans were imposed on the country.
The horrifying assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan this morning comes only one week before the Iowa caucuses and 12 days before New Hampshire. It is a sobering and frightening reminder of the challenges and threats and dangers posed to the United States by radical Islam, the nature of the struggle being waged against the effort to extend democratic freedoms in the Muslim world, and the awful possibility of a nuclear Pakistan overrun by Islamofascists. This is what the next president will be compelled by circumstance to spend a plurality of his or her time on. This is what really matters, not the cross Mike Huckabee lit up behind his head in his Christmas ad.
American politics would dearly love to take a holiday from history, just as it did in the 1990s. But our enemies are not going to allow us to do so. The murder of Bhutto moves foreign policy, the war on terror, and the threat of Islamofascism back into the center of the 2008 campaign. How candidates respond to it, and issues like it that will come up in the next 10 months, will determine whether they are fit for the presidency.