The author, columnist, decorated veteran, and unlikely target of a short-lived presidential draft movement, David French, took his name out of contention for the presidency on Sunday night. Paradoxically, despite his record of service to his country and a referenceable record of deep thought on civic affairs and public policy, perhaps no other act better established his suitability for high political office.
In rejecting the overtures of the forlorn anti-Trump right for National Review, French didn’t devote much space to waxing about his deliberative process or his qualifications for the presidency. That, too, is a sign of his integrity. Few who would consider running for political office in the first place have the perspective to resist the propositions of the wealthy, connected, and influential begging them to stand in the spotlight for five months. Instead, French spoke mostly of the disastrous verdict of both political parties in 2016 and his admiration for those who refuse to accept what he considers an intolerable binary in November.
Conservatives who remain skeptical of Trump but who declined to support French’s trial balloon did so primarily out of the understanding that such a bid would have been ill considered. If the only alternative to America’s two major political parties this rump assembly of malcontents could produce was a virtual unknown whose appeal is limited to a handful of center-right writers, it would demonstrate their impotence. In bowing out, French has saved the Trump-skeptical right some face. They should not celebrate this pyrrhic victory. It is now clear that men and women of good conscience and character have been driven out of presidential politics.
How can the decent be blamed for performing a thorough analysis of the costs and benefits associated with a White House bid and determining that the rewards don’t outweigh the risks? French’s experience is illustrative of the gauntlet even a prospective candidate must endure. The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway performed a public service in compiling a few of the most inane reactions from the nation’s opinion makers to French’s proposed candidacy. The response a French campaign inspired among center-left media figures tasked with the vetting of our presidential aspirants was, to say the least, uninspiring.
More than a few political analysts proclaimed that they had never heard of the two-time New York Times best-selling author and prolific conservative writer, as though that admission of ignorance and intellectual sequestration was something for which they should be proud.
Those who went about parsing French’s work swiftly took issue with his views, which are at once conservative and evangelical Christian. That an urban, coastal political media establishment finds traditionally conservative worldviews alien isn’t shocking. Like an amateur anthropologist mishandling an artifact with a cultural significance they fail to grasp, the self-styled arbiters of American political standards glibly denigrated French’s traditional values with a child’s recklessness. As Hemingway noted, however, in omitting French’s egalitarian pieces on race relations or his post on the abuse he suffered at the hands of a horde of bigoted pro-Trump online activists (French’s family is multi-racial), the effort is exposed for what it was. This was no objective endeavor by reporters to render a fuller picture of a complicated person, but an attempt to strike a scandalized posture for like minds in the commentary class.
Maybe the most transparent way in which the culturally homogenous journalist clique betrayed its purpose was the manner in which reporters implied that French’s relationship with his wife was somehow untoward. A Politico reporter discovered a paragraph from an article summarizing the work of French and his wife, who co-authored a book together on family and relationships when a spouse is deployed overseas, and determined that French “wouldn’t let his wife email men or use Facebook.” Theirs was, in fact, a mutual agreement that had little to do with temptation and more with preserving the special daily interactions of which a husband and wife are deprived in times of war. It didn’t seem to occur to those opportunists who gleefully tried to stigmatize this agreement as the work of a misogynistic and overbearing husband that they were depriving David French’s wife of agency in the process.
Most galling in this bizarrely uniform reaction from those who consider themselves enlightened and effete — beyond the inherent sexism in their assumption that French’s wife was an unwilling participant in her own marriage — is the portrayal of monogamy as strange and exotic. While obnoxious in any year, the “otherization” of morality – to co-opt a phrase pioneered by identity-obsessed parlor leftists – is particularly audacious in 2016. This is a year in which Republicans nominated a serial philanderer who dubbed his promiscuity a “personal Vietnam” and who proudly trades in wives as one would a leased car. This is a year in which Democrats nominated a woman who assassinated the characters of not one or two but three of her husband’s rape accusers, and who attacked the mental state of her husband’s more willing extramarital partners. If there was ever a year to celebrate the mundanity of a stable marriage, it’s this one.
No one should mistake the above for a demand that America’s political reporters go soft on presidential candidates. Merely, it is an acknowledgment that a media culture that venerates celebrity above integrity and achievement is already going soft on our presidential candidates, as long as those candidates reward a ratings-driven industry with eyeballs. Those decent, hard-working, intelligent souls who have the audacity even to flirt with high office from relative obscurity are quickly disabused of the notion that their ideas will get a fair hearing. Candidates who find themselves the object of national attention are personalized and pilloried long before their policy preferences are examined, leaving us with two candidates whose only reason for running for the presidency is their high self-regard. “That’s why people with dignity and a decent respect for their families steer clear of elective office,” wrote RedState contributor and attorney Dan McLaughlin, “leaving only people like Trump and the Clintons — people incapable of shame and hermetically removed from the life of ordinary human beings.”
What happens to a self-governed society when the highest qualification for leadership is a determination to avoid such a grueling and thankless charge at all costs? We’re about to find out.