Commentary Magazine


Does This Presidential Election Matter?

The British prime minister Harold Macmillan was once asked what represented the greatest challenge to a statesman. His famous answer: “events, my dear boy, events.”

We’ve seen some events over the past decade and we are likely to see more. Who is better poised to handle them: John McCain (to whom I am giving the Republican nomination) or Hillary Clinton (to whom I am handing the Democratic nod)?

Or does it matter; are we inexorably following a path predicted by de Tocqueville? Here are pertinent reflections from the memoirs of Michael Howard, formerly of King’s College and Yale, now retired:

for a generation, under the dingy leadership of Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson, Britain simply ceased to try in foreign affairs; abandoning its global responsibilities, following in the wake of an erratic American leadership, scrabbling belatedly to join the European enterprise, and getting the worst of every possible world. The ‘flip-side’, it must be said, was the creation of a standard of living for the bulk of its citizens beyond the wildest dreams of their grandfathers, if not indeed their fathers. Perhaps de Tocqueville was right in doubting the capacity of democracies to pursue consistent and successful foreign policies; but his countryman Raymond Aron was equally right when he remarked ruefully, when I met him at a conference in Italy, that the English people had regressed from being Romans to Italians in a single generation. My generation, I thought bitterly.

From Captain Professor: A Life in War and Peace, 2006.