n the midst of all the intense negotiating, legislating, deal-making and speech-making on the debt ceiling, it might be good to pull back for a moment and look at this epic confrontation not from the standpoint of wrangling for votes or headlines or TV appearances, but rather from the perspective of leadership. Who, regardless of title, position or seniority, is emerging as a future star? Or, in the wistful words of Peggy Noonan, is there another Ronald Reagan in the wings, ready for the role of a lifetime?
The former Reagan speechwriter is herself one of the most eloquent practitioners of eloquence. These are her words form a recent Wall Street Journal column on the occasion of the unveiling of a statue of Ronald Reagan in London, as ordinary citizens assembled for the ceremony or simply took it in as they walked by:People old and young stopped for a moment to think and speak of him, and to define what his leadership meant to them and their countries. The celebrations in Krakow, Budapest, Prague and London were a reminder that we are all traveling through history together, that you are living not only your own life, but the life of your times, as Laurens van der Post once said. And your era can actually be affected, made better, by what you do.
The subject matter was the fall of the wall, the end of communism, the reunification of Europe–those epochal events the world is still absorbing and that in retrospect seem even more amazing. Good people picked good leaders–the Big Three of the Cold War, Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, Reagan–and together they pushed until walls fell. Man is not used to such kind outcomes. A feeling of awe and gratitude colored the ceremonies: "My God, look what was done, I still can't believe it. Let's talk about how it happened and take those lessons into the future." Now of all times we could use the inspiration.
She put her rhetorical finger on one of the core qualities of leadership when she speaks of inspiration. Who among our conservative leaders rises above mere effective communication and approaches the outskirts of inspiration? Is it our new President, elected in no small part because of his own eloquence and ability to inspire during his campaign? No, somehow his almost Reaganesque fluency during the campaign seems to have left him when he fell short of expectations in his inauguration speech, and it has not returned since. Is it John Boehner? No, his experience and values serve him well, but although his remarks are often well-informed, principled and passionate, the impression he leaves is usually less than truly inspirational. Is it Mitch McConnell? I don't think I even need to complete the thought, except to note that he does understand the inner workings of his arcane legislative body better than almost anyone else. Is it Eric Cantor or Kevin McCarthy? No, they're both solid speakers, but nowhere near the Reagan standard. Is it Jim DeMint? He might be the closest, because he naturally thinks in and speaks of the largest issues and their philosophical basis, but even at his best, he's still a notch shy of the mark. And I could go on.
But I will posit that there is one who may well develop into the Ronald Reagan of the 21st century: Freshman Senator Marco Rubio. He is as close to a true natural as I have ever seen. His oratorical and persuasive skills may not be fully developed, but he's the closest to Ronald Reagan now on the political scene. He has that rare combination of passion, idealism and principle and conciseness that are the hallmarks of a great speaker and a future leader. Go to YouTube and search for links to his floor speeches and his recent Sunday talk show appearances. Watch him over the next several months, and then ask yourself one simple question: is Marco Rubio our next Reagan. I think he may be. And I think that nation may need him even more than Florida does.
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