David Brooks is making sense:
In Washington, the National Intelligence Estimate was released, suggesting the next president will not face an imminent nuclear showdown with Iran. In Iraq, the surge and tribal revolts produce increasing stability. In Pakistan, the streets have not exploded. In the Middle East, the Arabs and Palestinians stumble toward some sort of peace process. In Venezuela, a referendum set President Hugo Chávez back on his heels.
The world still has its problems, but it no longer seems to be building toward some larger crisis. The atmosphere of fear and conflict has at least temporarily abated. With the change in conditions, the election of 2008 is beginning to feel like a postwar election. American voters are coming out of the shells constructed after Sept. 11th and are looking for a new normalcy. They’re looking for something entirely different.
But the more comprehensive difference between a wartime election and a postwar election is that there is a shift in values. In wartime, leadership traits like courage, steadfastness and ruthlessness are prized. Voters are willing to vote for candidates they distrust so long as they seem tough and effective (Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani).
In a postwar election things are different. When Wall Street Journal/NBC pollsters asked voters what qualities they were looking for in the next leader, their top three choices were: the ability to work well with leaders of other countries; having strong moral and family values; bringing unity to the country. Those are cooperative qualities, not combative ones. They require good listening skills, openness and the ability to compromise.
It’s clear that voters are not only exhausted by the war, they are exhausted by the war over the war. On the Democratic side, Obama captured the mood exactly with his Jefferson-Jackson Day speech of a few weeks ago. In that speech, he asked voters to reject fear, partisanship and textbook politics. He asked them to vote instead on the basis of their aspirations for a new era of national unity. As a result, Obama has pulled ahead in Iowa and approached parity in New Hampshire.
The tragedy of the Republican race is that Mitt Romney and Giuliani, who could have offered a new kind of Republicanism, opted to run as conventional Bush-era Republicans. Now Huckabee has emerged as the fresh alternative. Huckabee is socially conservative, but not a partisan culture warrior. He’s a pragmatic gubernatorial Republican, not a rigid creature of the beltway interest groups.
My guess is that this race has a few more twists and turns. Something terrible could happen in the world, in which case the wartime mentality would be back in spades. Obama and Huckabee could beat Clinton and Romney, respectively, in the early states, only to fall victim to their own weaknesses later on. You laugh, but this thing could still spin into the lap of Fred Thompson or John McCain, Chris Dodd or Joe Biden.
Yeah, I know he talks about how the "surge" has helped "produce increasing stability" and doesn't qualify his statements about the importance of Iraq to voters.
But the theme of a "return to normalcy" doesn't sound all that bad to me.
Now, if Obama would take this idea and apply it to the unnecessary infringements on the Constitution made in the name of fighting a never-ending war on terrorism, a return to normalcy campaign would be substantive as much as rhetorical.