Two Miracles in Charleston A stunning demonstration of Christian faith helps resolve a bitter decades-long argument.

I know there’s a lot going on, but I think we witnessed two miracles this week, and public miracles are pretty rare and must be named. These two especially should be noted and remembered because they suggest a way out of the ongoing morass.

The first miracle is now nationally famous. It is that scene of amazing, other-worldy forgiveness shown at the bail hearing for the Charleston, S.C., shooting suspect. You have heard what the victims’ relatives said, but it should be underscored that their words were spontaneous, unscripted, and flowed like water pouring from deep wells. Nadine Collier, whose mother, Ethel Lance, 70, was killed: “I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. . . . You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But if God forgives you, I forgive you.” Alana Simmons, whose grandfather the Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons Sr. was killed, told the New York Times she didn’t plan to speak at the hearing but found herself inspired by Ms. Collier. “We are here to combat hate-filled actions with love-filled actions,” she said. “And that is what we want to get out to the world.”

Rally to ban the confederate flag

A rally at the South Carolina State House in Columbia calls for the confederate flags removal on June 23.

Those of us lucky to watch live, who didn’t know what was coming, got to experience the full force of the event. To me most moving was what Bethane Middleton-Brown said of her murdered sister: “She taught me that we are the family love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive.”

That was the first miracle, the amazing grace that pierced the hearers’ hearts—in America, in 2015, at an alleged murderer’s bail hearing in a plain, homely courtroom. Christian churches and their believers are used to being patronized or mocked as silly, ignorant or hypocritical. They often don’t mind, often laugh along with the joke. But these were public statements that laid out the essence of Christianity, unedited and undiluted, and you couldn’t laugh or scoff. You could only feel awe and ask yourself: “If I were that person in those circumstances, would I be great too?”

Within days, something else wholly unexpected happened. A tough old knot became untied. Something people had been fighting about for a long time was suddenly about to be resolved. The murders at the church, and what was said by the relatives of the dead, prompted the rejection of the Confederate battle flag in gentle, kindly, heartfelt words.

The tableau at the South Carolina Capitol surrounding Gov. Nikki Haley was itself moving—both parties, all colors, the Indian-American governor flanked by the African-American U.S. senator, Tim Scott.

Ms. Haley said that immediately after the shootings, “we were hurt and broken and we needed to heal.” South Carolinians began “not by talking about issues that divide us, but by holding vigils, by hugging neighbors, by honoring those we lost and by falling to our knees in prayer.” She spoke of the victims’ relatives: “Their expression of faith and forgiveness took our breath away.”

“On matters of race, South Carolina has a tough history,” she acknowledged. “We all know that. Many of us have seen it in our own lives—in the lives of our parents and our grandparents. We don’t need reminders.” She turned to the subject of the banner that flies on the statehouse grounds. “For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble—traditions of history, of heritage and of ancestry.” But “for many others . . . the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.” The state can “survive” as home to both viewpoints: “We do not need to declare a winner and a loser here. We respect freedom of expression, and that for those who wish to show their respect for the flag on their private property, no one will stand in your way.”

“But the statehouse is different and the events of this past week call upon us to look at this in a different way. . . . Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.”

And that was that. Within 48 hours the governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, ordered the flag removed from the statehouse grounds there, and Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker said his state’s flag, which incorporates the Confederate design, should be altered. Govs. Nathan Deal of Georgia and Terry McAuliffe of Virginia said they’d do away with vanity license plates that include the banner.

It hardly needs be said American politics doesn’t usually work like this. Our political culture tends to be mean-spirited, shouty, full of moral posing and pointed fingers. In this case, everyone seemed to be laying down arms. This was a miracle not of “justice” but of “mercy.” Justice can be argued about forever, but mercy is just what it is, as the people who spoke at the bail hearing know.

It’s hard to imagine the Confederate battle flag is going to be given prominence on statehouse grounds in the future. Something big changed in this old argument, and it won’t change back.

When I first watched the hearing, I hoped the mourning people of South Carolina would not have political debates forced on them while their throats were full of tears. But as Ms. Haley implied, they went forward on their own, as Southerners and South Carolinians, and made the decision while their throats were full of tears.

This was the South talking to the South.

And it was Christians talking to Christians about what Christianity is.

In Christianity Today, writer Michael Wear, who headed President Obama’s faith outreach efforts in the 2012 campaign, had a strong piece with a strong headline: “Stop Explaining Away Black Christian Forgiveness.” Mr. Wear bluntly rejected recent essays arguing that the relatives who spoke at the bail hearing were acting out the traditions or survival mechanisms of their race. That, he argued, is an elitist, racist view. The “confounding forgiveness” given voice at the bail hearing, the “radical love” contained in the statements, was not cultural, sociological or political, it was theological. It was about Jesus Christ. “They did not forgive to express the values of their race or to represent the character of their country, but to be faithful to their God.” Black people, he added, have “equal access to Jesus,” and the survivors could forgive “because they believe that fateful night in the upper room of Mother Emanuel was not the end of their loved ones’ stories.” They believed the dead are as they were, “in the Kingdom of God, beloved by him, their greatest longings realized.” He asked: “What other American community today displays less shame, less reservation, less self-awareness about proclaiming the Christian faith?”

That is exactly what I thought as I watched the hearing.

The Nobel Peace Prize committee, if they know it, have some new nominees: the relatives of the dead who offered the mercy that relaxed the hands of those who’d been holding, too tight, to a flag.

Everyone thinks progress depends on indignation, accusation, aggression, demonstration, marching. But we just saw anger lose to love. It’s a huge moment.

A Bow to Charleston

A Northerner bows, deeply, to the South:

I have never seen anything like what I saw on television this afternoon. Did you hear the statements made at the bond hearing of the alleged Charleston, S.C., shooter?

Nine beautiful people slaughtered Wednesday night during Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and their relatives were invited to make a statement today in court. Did you hear what they said?

They spoke of mercy. They offered forgiveness. They invited the suspect, who was linked in by video from jail, to please look for God.

There was no rage, no accusation—just broken hearts undefended and presented for the world to see. They sobbed as they spoke.

“I just wanted everybody to know, to you, I forgive you,” said the daughter of Ethel Lance, killed in the shooting. “You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you.” She asked that God have mercy on the shooter’s soul. “You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. May God forgive you. And I forgive you.”

A family member of Anthony Thompson said he forgave the shooter. “I forgive you and my family forgives you, but we would like you to take this opportunity to repent . . . confess, give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so that He can change it—can change your ways no matter what happens to you, and you will be OK. Do that and you will be better.”

The mother of Tywanza Sanders, also killed, told the shooter: “We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms,” she said. “Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. . . . Tywanza was my hero. But as we said in Bible study, we enjoyed you, but may God have mercy on you.”

The granddaughter of Daniel Simmons Sr., also killed Wednesday, said, “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof—everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love and their legacies will live in love. So, hate won’t win. . . . I just want to thank the courts for making sure that hate doesn’t win.”

As I watched I felt I was witnessing something miraculous. I think I did. It was people looking into the eyes of evil, into the eyes of the sick and ignorant shooter who’d blasted a hole in their families, and explaining to him with the utmost forbearance that there is a better way.

What a country that makes such people. Do you ever despair about America? If they are America we are going to be just fine.

Afterward, outside the courtroom, people gathered and sang gospel hymns.

*   *   *

I just have to say what a people the people of Charleston are. They are doing something right, something beautiful, to be who they’ve been the past few days.

From the beginning they handled the tragedy with such heart and love. They handled it like a community, a real, alive one that people live within connected to each other.

From Thursday morning when news first spread everyone I saw on TV, from the mayor, Joseph Riley, to those who spoke for the church, to the police spokesmen, to the governor, Nikki Haley—they were all so dignified and genuinely grieving, and not the pseudo-grief we always see when something bad happens and the leader says our prayers are with the victims. Haley had to stop speaking for a few moments, so moved was she when she made her first statement. Riley said today, of the shooter, “This hateful person came to this community with this crazy idea that he would be able to divide us, but all he did was make us more united and love each other even more.” I read that quote Friday afternoon in the Journal, in Valerie Bauerlein’s story, and I thought: Riley isn’t just talking, he is telling the truth.

Charleston deserves something, a bow. So too do the beautiful people who go to Wednesday night Bible study in America in 2015. They are the people who are saving America every day, completely unheralded, and we can hardly afford to lose them.

There’s only one thing Charleston doesn’t deserve. People apart from the trauma, far away, have already begun to bring their political agenda items to the tragedy and make sure they are debated. Because this is the right time for a political debate, right?

Here’s an idea: Why don’t you leave the grieving alone right now? Why don’t you not impose your agenda items on them? Why don’t you not force them to debate while they have tears in their throats?

Don’t politicize their pain. Don’t turn this into a debate on a flag or guns. Don’t use it to make your points and wave your finger from your high horse.

These people are doing it right without you.

They are loving each other and helping each other. Let them grieve in peace. And respect them as what they are, heroic.

Hillary Will Glide Above It All The Democrats can enforce party discipline. The Republican contest will be a free-for-all.

Some observations on the announcements of Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, and on a looming problem for the Republican Party.

Mrs. Clinton’s announcement, last Saturday on Roosevelt Island, was first of all a concession that her April announcement, in a pretty, content-free video, didn’t quite do the job. As a speech it was largely anodyne, did the candidate no harm and probably a little good. The crowd of some 5,000 was small for a June morning in deep-blue New York. The speech quickly took on a State of the Union laundry-list quality, as if her campaign calculated the recitation of policy proposals would yield an impression of substantive depth.

Her awkwardness—the sense of always being one beat off in her words and gestures; her habit, when she comes out to applause, of bowing forward and applauding back—seems to me a kind of public shyness and is almost endearing. Mrs. Clinton doesn’t seem to enjoy crowds, which is odd since she’s in the crowds business. She is not an extrovert in the same way as her husband, and there was a moment after the speech, when the family gathered on the stage, when Bill started to bring up his arm in a dynamic pointing movement and then suddenly let it flop back down, as if he remembered he wasn’t supposed to dominate the shot.

Queen Hillary at the joustWhen it was over I thought how odd it is, when the nation has never been so preoccupied with politics, that Mrs. Clinton, the president she seeks to replace, and one of her main Republican opponents show so little joy in the fleshy part of politics—the politicking, the sheer personal interplay. Mr. Obama is good on the stump, and Mrs. Clinton and Jeb Bush are not especially. But all operate at a certain remove.

Mr. Bush in his announcement had to make it new so that people would give him a second look. After the generally poor impression of the past few months, expectations were low. He exceeded them. He wished the production to have a Latin/New America flair that showed the vibrancy of America’s big ethnic and racial mix. It did. Those donors who were getting anxious about their investment probably came away calmed.

The Bushes associate the showbiz of politics with shallowness and insincerity. Jeb should get over this. It’s part of the fun of politics, as Chris Christie and Ted Cruz know. Sometimes when Mr. Bush delivers a good line he looks around at the end as if he’s thinking, “I hope you don’t mind, I had to do a good line.” That’s a kind of public shyness and awkwardness, too.

Mr. Bush always seems embarrassed at his ambition, embarrassed you’d think he wants power. This is an odd quality in one who wants power.

He often says voters want to see what’s in his heart. I’m not sure that’s true; it strikes me as old playbook. Republican voters have gotten cooler over the years; they want to know what’s in your head. I could imagine a skeptical but open-minded Democrat, however, coming away impressed.

Meanwhile the Republican establishment, such as it is, should be thinking hard on this:

Mrs. Clinton is almost certainly about to glide to her party’s nomination. There will be a few bumps. She will occasionally be pressed and challenged on various questions. There will be back and forth. But her Democratic opponents will not attack her character, her history, her financial decisions, her scandals. They will not go at her personally. She will emerge dinged but not damaged. No one will ravage the queen.

The Republican primary, on the other hand, will be all hell bursting loose. The candidates will spend the next year tearing each other apart on everything and anything. Super PACs are furiously raising money, some of which will be used to take down and slam GOP opponents in negative ads and videos.

At least a few of them will do what Newt Gingrich so effectively did to Mitt Romney in South Carolina in 2012. Mr. Gingrich hit hard on Mr. Romney’s investment firm, Bain Capital, and his tax returns. He painted Mr. Romney as a cold, rapacious capitalist who’ll close your factory and take your jobs. Mr. Gingrich described Mr. Romney’s line of work as “rich people figuring out clever legal ways to loot a company.” Mr. Romney’s South Carolina numbers began to sink in the last days of the campaign. Mr. Gingrich enjoyed a surprise win.

The Obama re-election campaign was of course watching the fun, and went on to kill Mr. Romney with Mr. Gingrich’s themes. They’d likely have done it anyway but the attacks were given added legitimacy by GOP provenance.

The Democrats have an enforcement mechanism to keep all their candidates in line. Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley know without being told that the party will kill them if they tear apart the assumed nominee. Their careers will be over if they go at her personally.

A GOP opposition-research veteran said of the Democrats’ enforcement mechanism, “As an upstairs-downstairs party, the upstairs is a fairly concentrated place. The Democrats as the ‘in’ party—the party of Silicon Valley and academia—has interlocking pools of money, brains and talent.” When they turn on you, it is like facing “the Death Star.” And “on top of that, you have the Clintonian tropism toward score settling and vengeance. What you have in the end is discipline.”

The Republicans? “They stand to beat the hell out of each other for months to come.” The GOP is not concentrated but spread out, geographically and culturally—“everything from establishment types to evangelicals to hedge-fund gods and farmers.” Candidates reflect diverse denominations: “It’s a party of dissenters” and operatives who have no motive to avoid hurting another group’s favorite.

Half a dozen candidates are clustered near the top, so the fight this year will be fierce. The Republicans have no old-style enforcers—no establishment figures everyone is afraid of crossing. Republicans are by nature entrepreneurs—they’ll do a lot not to lose market share.

So Republicans this cycle will likely go after each other in a personal, rough way, bloody each other, and damage the eventual nominee, while Mrs. Clinton will glide along relatively untouched. Democrats will watch the fisticuffs, determine what line of attack worked best on the GOP nominee, and mine it deeper in the general election.

Is the GOP thinking about setting 2016 ground rules? Is it thinking about penalties—publicly warning candidates that if they go at contenders on anything but the issues they’ll face the wrath of the party? Is there any way to put teeth in such a threat?

Here it should be noted that Republicans often speak of Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.” He didn’t mean don’t attack them. He himself tried to take out a sitting Republican president and went at Gerald Ford hammer and tongs—on the issues. It was never personal, and it had nothing to do with “oppo.” It was about great questions, not small people. That’s not only how to win, it’s how to win with meaning.

Scenes From a Young Papacy What kind of a pope is Francis? Charismatic, enigmatic, mysterious—it’s complicated.


It is the big Wednesday general audience of the pope in St. Peter’s Square. Forty thousand people or more are here, pilgrims and tourists spilling through the square past the fountain, some holding flags, still more holding umbrellas against what is already, at 10 a.m., a punishing Roman sun. Papal chamberlains in white tie and tails; rows of bishops, cardinals and abbots; the Swiss Guard in their yellow, red and blue uniforms, halberds held sternly in white-gloved hands—the church, as always, knows how to put on a show.

When Francis comes out there are cheers, calls of “Papa!” and applause. John Paul II at the end, in his illness, looked different from his pictures, and Benedict XVI seemed taller and sweeter than what you’d seen, but Francis is exactly the Francis you anticipated, the big smiling man in eyeglasses and white cassock.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

He is driven in an open jeep through the crowd, and you can tell where he is from the direction of the roar.

The reading is from the Gospel of St. Mark. A priest, Father Roger Landry, offered spontaneous translation for our row, and soon other rows were leaning in. “My little girl is at the point of death,” a man told Christ, who went to her and said, “Little girl, I say to you, arise,” and she rose and walked. Francis began his commentary with a merry “bongiorno,” which pleased the crowd, and then spoke on sickness, which he characterized as an “experience of fragility” that can come as “a real shock”: “In so many places the hospital is a privilege for the few” and the family is “the closest hospital.” He spoke of the “hidden heroism” of those who care for the sick, reminded them they are not alone, that they are accompanied by “kisses of God,” and asked all to “pray unceasingly” for the ill and their caretakers.

It was not like one of John Paul’s weekly audiences. Those were raucous affairs—the crowds sang and even danced; they cheered and rocked the hall with their chants. With Francis it is all surprisingly subdued, warm but bracing. As a cardinal told me, when Francis says mass it’s in Italian, not Latin; it is prayerful, but no time is wasted—“no frills. And he doesn’t sing.”

You sense he’s trying to conserve his energy.

What you find among the churchmen of Rome is what a mystery Francis still is after two years of his papacy. To put it less dramatically, they’re still getting to know him and pondering different aspects of his nature, some of which seem contradictory. They love his charisma and respect and appreciate his popularity. He has a gift for intimacy but few intimate friends. He is “a complicated figure,” according to a priest who knows him.

Though ideological categories don’t fully apply, Francis’s political vision is usually described as more or less of the left, assuming a faith in the power of the state to help and protect the people. On piety and the great moral issues the modern church faces each day, he is a traditionalist, though a largely unheard one because the media do not find that part of the picture interesting.

He moves forward in the world wearing a big smile while observing, of the parable of the good Shepard who will leave 99 of his sheep to save just one, that now it is 99 of the sheep who are lost.

No one claims to know exactly how Francis thinks, or even who his closest advisers are. He is said to keep his thinking and his plans largely to himself. An observer said, of his discretion, “The left hand doesn’t know what right hand is doing.” He is, famously and toward the world, the pope of the open embrace, but he is not convivial like John Paul, who made it a point to fill his lunch and dinner tables with thinkers and old friends. Francis is happy to eat alone or with a few regulars. He is somewhat austere. He is, like John Paul, a great showman, but he is not seen, as John Paul was, as a great intellect.

When he speaks on theological things—the meaning of the gospel, the mission of the church—he is universally known to be drawing from a deep theological well of study, contemplation and experience. When he talks about politics it’s more like he is probing a tooth that hurts. When he pops off, and he likes to pop off, he causes the church he loves discomfort.

Most recently it was his jocular comment that just because you’re faithful to church teaching on contraceptives doesn’t mean you have to breed “like rabbits.” That went over big with the more or less secular but not with the more or less Catholic. It wounded parents of big families, who are criticized more than enough by the world and would hope at least for respect from the church whose teachings they love and obey. One cardinal called it a disaster. But something came of it. A mother of a large brood wrote to Francis to tell him: “I have many children and I want you to know I wasn’t the rabbit—it was my husband.” The pope roared.

It is often said of Pope Francis that he has the power of immediate empathy, that when you are talking to him, as they often say of gifted American politicians, you feel like you are the only person in the room. I asked a priest if that meant Francis had the talents of a modern politician. No, he said, and here is why: “This is not an attempt to manipulate for selfish or self furthering gains. He is acting spontaneously to show you how the love of Christ feels. When he hugs the diseased man, that is to show Christ’s love. When he stops to hug the little boy who is sick, it is Christ’s love.” Francis, he said, “is depicting the joy of Christian feeling.”

About the encyclical on the environment, due next week, one gets the impression from church leaders that global-warming skeptics will not be pleased. They are quick to say the other side won’t fully love it either. The pope will note at length the previous environmental writings of John Paul and Benedict, the latter actually known for a time as “the green pope.” The Vatican feels the science of climate change is settled. It wants to be in the conversation, it wants to speak on an issue that has great meaning for the young, and as a cardinal said, “The church got it wrong with Galileo and it doesn’t want to get it wrong again.” Also the European elite is all in on climate change and the Vatican is in Europe. The Church fears being tagged as antiscience and antifact.

But is the science of climate change settled? And can a church that made a mistake with Galileo 400 years ago make another mistake by trying desperately not to repeat the earlier one?

Choosing a Path in the World Ahead A strategic thinker considers three different futures for America.

Presidential candidates have begun to nibble around the edges of the most important question of 2016, which is what approach we should take toward the world in the 21st century. This of course is not only an international-affairs question. Foreign-policy decisions bring domestic repercussions and effects. Sometimes they are dramatic and sometimes long-lasting.

The political scientist and global risk strategist Ian Bremmer, a foreign-affairs columnist at Time, has written a book asking Americans themselves to decide what our policy should be, and offering what he sees as three central options.

“America,” he writes, “will remain the world’s only superpower for the foreseeable future. But what sort of superpower should it be? What role should America play in the world? What role do you want America to play?”

Whither Uncle Sam?The world is in flux, its tectonic plates shifting: Old settlements and dispensations are falling away, new ones are having rough births. No one knows what comes next. No American consensus has emerged. President Obama himself has never chosen or declared a foreign-policy vision, which has made nothing better and some things worse.

The worst choice now, says Mr. Bremmer, is to refuse to choose. We can’t just continue improvising—that has become dangerously confusing to our allies, our rivals and ourselves.

So what way do we want to go?

Mr. Bremmer calls the first option “Independent America.” We can’t be the world’s policeman; we’re not Superman. We must “declare independence from the need to solve other people’s problems and . . . finally realize our country’s enormous untapped potential by focusing our attentions at home.” We spend too much on the military, which not only adds to our debt but guarantees our weapons will be used: “Policymakers will find uses for them to justify their expense,” which will “implicate us in crises that are none of our business.”

In this view, our national-security bureaucracy threatens our own freedoms and strains relations with allies. The hidden costs of war include individual anguish, cultural stress and a demand for secrecy that “poisons American democracy.” Drones seem neat and effective, but their use is dangerous: “Our actions in the Middle East and South Asia make us more vulnerable at home, by persuading a new generation of Pakistanis, Yemenis, and others that it’s better to attack Americans who aren’t wearing state-of-the-art body armor.” Not every country wants democracy. “For all the damage a foolish foreign policy inflicts on US interests abroad, the greatest damage is done in the United States.” It follows that we must reorient our thinking: “It is not power that makes America exceptional. It is freedom.”

Is “Independent America” a pleasant term for isolationism? That charge, Mr. Bremmer argues, “is not meant to shed light but to close conversation”—to dismiss “every legitimate reservation that ordinary Americans have” about U.S. foreign-policy excesses and miscalculations. The best way to promote our values around the world is by “perfecting democracy at home.” Among the priorities: protect the U.S. from a terrorist attack “that might push America permanently off course,” protect our borders and infrastructure, clean up and invest in public education, put more money back in taxpayers’ pockets. Stronger at home will mean stronger in the world, which will note our renewal.

The second choice, according to Mr. Bremmer, is “Moneyball America.” The job of U.S. foreign policy is to make the U.S. safer and more prosperous, full stop. Some things must be done in the world, and “it’s in America’s interest for Americans to do them.” But we are not Hercules, and our resources are finite. We must focus our attentions “where they are best able to promise U.S. national security and economic opportunity.”

We should lead international efforts against terrorism, join coalitions of the willing, build partnerships—“Never walk alone”—do more with less, keep our eye on the bottom line. Our military should be state-of-the-art, but we should look to make the arms race into a trade race. Look to America’s value, not its values. There is no bias toward projecting strength; the U.S. should get over its obsession with looking weak. “Those who make American foreign policy and those who implement it must be guided by both discretion and humility.”

At the end of the day, Mr. Bremmer says of the world, “everyone . . . is playing Moneyball.”

The third choice he calls “Indispensable America.” This involves a burly, all-in commitment to international leadership. It has practical and idealistic aspects; it is a long-term project but one consonant with our greatness as a nation. “America can never establish lasting security and prosperity in the interconnected modern world until we have helped others win their freedom.” We are called to “promote and protect” American values globally. “No one else will fill this breach.” We are the world’s only indispensable nation because only we have the means and will to stabilize international politics and the world economy. America is exceptional, and its work is not finished. “America must now think bigger and in more ambitious terms” than ever before. “We must build an entirely new foreign policy” based on the insight that in a globalized world “we can’t succeed unless others succeed too.” Get over ideas like peacetime and wartime: “We live in a world of permanent tension.” We can’t solve every problem, “but this does not excuse us from the responsibility to solve the ones we can.” As to cost, “the United States can pay its debts by simply printing more money.” At the end of the day the dollar will still be the world’s reserve currency—still the safest port in the world economic storm.

As I read, I found myself wondering how a politician would react. I think he’d find it all both too abstract and too concrete. He would want one from column A (independence of action and a shown concern for the home front), one from column B (of course safety and prosperity are paramount) and one from column C (a known willingness to use unquestioned military power can be a handy thing in the world).

Politicians hate to speak about their vision of America’s immediate place and role in the world for several reasons. They have risen in the ad hoc, provisional, moment-to-moment world of daily politics. That life teaches you long-term plans don’t have to be part of your long-term plan. In foreign policy especially, declaring a clear stand wins you committed enemies and tentative friends. Best to dummy up and speak in generalities.

But at a certain point all the candidates for president, even Hillary Clinton, will have to give a sense of what’s in their heads. They hope to guide U.S. foreign policy for the next eight years. It isn’t asking too much that they speak about where we are and where we ought to be going.

Mr. Bremmer gave his choice at the end of the book. It seemed to me surprising from one who appears to have thrived in the heart of the foreign-policy establishment. He felt the tug of each course but in the end came down for Independent America, and for interesting reasons. Candidates especially could get the book and find out what they are.

The Trigger-Happy Generation If reading great literature traumatizes you, wait until you get a taste of adult life.

Readers know of the phenomenon at college campuses regarding charges of “microaggressions” and “triggers.” It’s been going on for a while and is part of a growing censorship movement in which professors, administrators and others are accused of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, gender bias and ethnocentric thinking, among other things. Connected is the rejection or harassment of commencement and other campus speakers who are not politically correct. I hate that phrase, but it just won’t stop being current.

Kirsten Powers goes into much of this in her book, “The Silencing.” Anyway, quite a bunch of little Marats and Robespierres we’re bringing up.

But I was taken aback by a piece a few weeks ago in the Spectator, the student newspaper of Columbia University. I can’t shake it, though believe me I’ve tried. I won’t name the four undergraduate authors, because 30 years from now their children will be on Google, and because everyone in their 20s has the right to be an idiot.

Oh no!  Life isn't perfect!

Yet theirs is a significant and growing form of idiocy that deserves greater response.

The authors describe a student in a class discussion of Ovid’s epic poem “Metamorphoses.” The class read the myths of Persephone and Daphne, which, as parts of a narrative that stretches from the dawn of time to the Rome of Caesar, include depictions of violence, chaos, sexual assault and rape. The student, the authors reported, is herself “a survivor of sexual assault” and said she was “triggered.” She complained the professor focused “on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text.” He did not apparently notice her feelings, or their urgency. As a result, “the student completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. She did not feel safe in the class.”

Safe is the key word here. There’s the suggestion that a work may be a masterpiece but if it makes anyone feel bad, it’s out.

Later the student told the professor how she felt, and her concerns, she said, were ignored. The authors of the op-ed note that “Metamorphoses” is a fixture in the study of literature and humanities, “but like so many texts in the Western canon it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom.” The Western canon, they continue, is full of “histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression” that can be “difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.”

That makes them feel unsafe: “Students need to feel safe in the classroom, and that requires a learning environment that recognizes the multiplicity of their identities.” The authors suggest changing the core curriculum but concede it may not be easy. Another student, they report, suggested in her class that maybe instead they could read “a Toni Morrison text.” A different student responded that “texts by authors of the African Diaspora are a staple in most high school English classes, and therefore they did not need to reread them.” That remark, the authors assert, was not only “insensitive” but “revealing of larger ideological divides.” The professor, they report, failed at this moment to “intervene.”

The op-ed authors call for “a space to hold a safe and open dialogue” about classroom experiences that “traumatize and silence students,” with the aim of creating environments that recognize “the multiplicity” of student “identities.”

Well, here are some questions and a few thoughts for all those who have been declaring at all the universities, and on social media, that their feelings have been hurt in the world and that the world had just better straighten up.

Why are you so fixated on the idea of personal safety, by which you apparently mean not having uncomfortable or unhappy thoughts and feelings? Is there any chance this preoccupation is unworthy of you? Please say yes.

There is no such thing as safety. That is asking too much of life. You can’t expect those around you to constantly accommodate your need for safety. That is asking too much of people.

Life gives you potentials for freedom, creativity, achievement, love, all sorts of beautiful things, but none of us are “safe.” And you are especially not safe in an atmosphere of true freedom. People will say and do things that are wrong, stupid, unkind, meant to injure. They’ll bring up subjects you find upsetting. It’s uncomfortable. But isn’t that the price we pay for freedom of speech?

You can ask for courtesy, sensitivity and dignity. You can show others those things, too, as a way of encouraging them. But if you constantly feel anxious and frightened by what you encounter in life, are we sure that means the world must reorder itself? Might it mean you need a lot of therapy?

Masterpieces, by their nature, pierce. They jar and unsettle. If something in a literary masterpiece upsets you, should the masterpiece really be banished? What will you be left with when all of them are gone?

What in your upbringing told you that safety is the highest of values? What told you it is a realistic expectation? Who taught you that you are entitled to it every day? Was your life full of . . . unchecked privilege? Discuss.

Do you think Shakespeare, Frieda Kahlo, Virginia Woolf, Langston Hughes and Steve Jobs woke up every morning thinking, “My focus today is on looking for slights and telling people they’re scaring me”? Or were their energies and commitments perhaps focused on other areas?

I notice lately that some members of your generation are being called, derisively, Snowflakes. Are you really a frail, special and delicate little thing that might melt when the heat is on?

Do you wish to be known as the first generation that comes with its own fainting couch? Did first- and second-wave feminists march to the barricades so their daughters and granddaughters could act like Victorians with the vapors?

Everyone in America gets triggered every day. Many of us experience the news as a daily microaggression. Who can we sue, silence or censor to feel better?

Finally, social justice warriors always portray themselves—and seem to experience themselves—as actively suffering victims who need protection. Is that perhaps an invalid self-image? Are you perhaps less needy than demanding? You seem to be demanding a safety no one else in the world gets. If you were so vulnerable, intimidated and weak, you wouldn’t really be able to attack and criticize your professors, administrators and fellow students so ably and successfully, would you?

Are you a bunch of frail and sensitive little bullies? Is it possible you’re not intimidated but intimidators?

Again, discuss.

By the way, I went back to the op-ed and read the online comments it engendered from the Columbia community. They were quite wonderful. One called, satirically, to ban all satire because it has too many “verbal triggers.” Another: “These women are like a baby watching a movie and thinking the monster is going to come out of the screen and get them.” Another: “These girls’ parents need a refund.”

The biggest slayer of pomposity and sanctimony in our time continues to be American wit.

The Hillary Clinton Paradox Is her victory inevitable or impossible?

On the matter of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy I find myself holding opposite and irreconcilable views: “That can’t possibly work,” and “She’s inevitable.”

Her candidacy can’t work because of the deep, daily cascade of scandals that would disqualify anyone else. State Department emails on private servers, stonewalling Congress; the family foundation that appears to function in part as a high-class slush fund and that, this week we learned, paid a significant salary to that beacon of philanthropic spirit Sidney Blumenthal, a political operative and conspiracist whose nickname in the Clinton White House was “G.K.,” for “Grassy Knoll.” Also this week these headlines: “Clinton Foundation Donors Got Weapons Deals from Hillary Clinton’s State Department,” and “FIFA Donated Thousands to Clinton Foundation.” FIFA of course is the international soccer organization under criminal investigation for bribes and kickbacks.

It is simply unbelievable that a person whose way of operating is so famously and chronically sketchy can be chosen as president. Her policy judgments throughout her career will come under question. She is good at politics in terms of how she perceives the game and generally makes decisions within it—good enough to be an almost certain presidential nominee. Yet she is charmless on the stump and seems always to be hiding something in interviews. In speeches she continues to do strange things, such as speaking with a Southern accent this week in South Carolina.

Former Secretary of State, Hillary ClintonWhy does she do that? Is she trolling the press? They know she hates them. A friend who is a veteran journalist recently explained why. In the late 1980s and early ’90s Hillary knew the boomer press was on the Clintons’ side ideologically and culturally—they were Democrats, and often friends. But she was surprised over the years to learn that didn’t mean they were on the team. They reported the couple’s scandals, wrote critical articles and books. She felt, and feels, betrayed. She thought they were friends, and thought that meant fealty. It’s not a plus to have a distanced, unfriendly relationship with journalists. (Republicans, on the other hand, can generally operate without such personal bitterness. They never had the illusion the press was on their side.)

Here is why Mrs. Clinton is inevitable:

In five of the past six presidential elections, the Democrats have won the popular vote. They enjoy certain locked-in advantages. The party itself is united and wholly organized around the idea of winning. (There is, however, a sense that its best talents have been exhausted in the two Obama terms, and its rising talents haven’t had the chance to learn what losers know.) Mrs. Clinton has 100% name ID, has one opponent in an old socialist to whom she can be publicly kind, and is connected to a former president whose presidency is looked back on with a sort of encrusted nostalgia—good economy, relative peace, colorful and singular messes. She has lasted long enough to go from wide-shouldered yuppie with angry blond hair to cooing grandmother. Soon they’ll be calling her “Mami.”

The polls show that even at this low point in her campaign, with the daily scandal cascade, she continues to beat all GOP comers. This week’s Quinnipiac survey shows her leading the closest Republican challengers, Rand Paul (46% to 42%) and Marco Rubio (45% to 41%). Republicans take comfort that this world-famous, unopposed icon is under 50%. I’m not so sure.

But this is interesting. Somehow the polls recently have failed to spot rising conservative tides—in Britain in May, in Israel in March and in the U.S. last November. Maybe pollsters are all watching MSNBC and the BBC and operating within a constantly reinforcing thought-loop. Maybe they suffer from epistemic closure.

Most interestingly—and this is what political scientists call “the part that makes you want to shoot yourself”—Quinnipiac reports a majority of voters do not feel Mrs. Clinton is “honest and trustworthy.” They made that judgment by a margin of 52% to 39%. That means a good portion of those who support Mrs Clinton do not believe she can be trusted to tell them the truth. The nice way to think of that is: “Americans sure are over the heroic conception of the presidency!” Another nice way: “Americans shrewdly pick presidents based not on personal virtues but on other qualities, such as experience and ideological predisposition.”

A less nice way is: “Wow, you’d vote for someone even you don’t believe? You might want to trust a president when the nukes begin to fall. What’s wrong with you?”

On the GOP side, elite opinion has started talking about how two dozen candidates are careening around in a big messy jumble. They say it will wind up like 2012, “a clown-car Indy 500 with cars hitting the wall and guys in wigs littering the track,” as someone noted then.

But that’s not how I see it this time. It is an impressive and largely accomplished field. Almost all in it might be reasonable presidents—oh, how Obama has lowered the bar!—maybe half would probably be good, and a quarter very good. Soon John Kasich, with one of the best résumés of any candidate ever—18 years in the House, six of them as Budget Committee chairman, and two terms as governor of Ohio, re-elected by an astounding 31 points—will likely declare. I don’t know if he knows where the base is, but he seems to know where America is.

And they are all talking serious issues. A few weeks ago it was Mr. Rubio at the Council on Foreign Relations. This week on “Morning Joe,” Mr. Paul tackled who and what caused ISIS. Some see the question as the pointless picking at a scab, but it may help get us back to essential questions: What assumptions should govern our choices in the Mideast, what have we learned, how do we separate the crucial from the important?

It would be nice if Mrs. Clinton spoke on such matters. Instead she continues her listening tour. She’s been on many of them over the years; it’s how she likes to campaign. But what is she listening for? What is she trying to hear? She’s been in politics 40 years; she knows what she thinks. It’s not really a listening tour; it’s a say-nothing-and-nod-empathetically tour. It would be nice if attendees—if they could get past the vetting—would start saying surprising things to which she could nod. “The French Revolution was bad!” Empathetic nod. “Why worry about stupid Christians who don’t have the brains to move out of the Mideast?” Empathetic nod, finger on chin, eyes narrowed in the Thinking Look. “Broad amnesty would worsen chronic unemployment and is in that sense a way of giving up, and on our own people, many of whom were blasted out of manufacturing jobs by globalist hacks in Washington—but it will keep wages down, give you a feeling of creamy moral goodness and nail down the Hispanic vote, so all good, right?” Relatable nod, followed by blinking get-me-out-of-here look.

They could force her to be forthcoming by finding out what she’d nod to.


How the Clintons Get Away With It The Clintons are protected from charges of corruption by their reputation for corruption.

I have read the Peter Schweizer book “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich.” It is something. Because it is heavily researched and reported and soberly analyzed, it is a highly effective takedown. Because its tone is modest—Mr. Schweizer doesn’t pretend to more than he has, or take wild interpretive leaps—it is believable.

By the end I was certain of two things. A formal investigation, from Congress or the Justice Department, is needed to determine if Hillary Clinton’s State Department functioned, at least to some degree and in some cases, as a pay-for-play operation and whether the Clinton Foundation has functioned, at least in part, as a kind of high-class philanthropic slush fund.

Hill'n'BillieI wonder if any aspirant for the presidency except Hillary Clinton could survive such a book. I suspect she can because the Clintons are unique in the annals of American politics: They are protected from charges of corruption by their reputation for corruption. It’s not news anymore. They’re like . . . Bonnie and Clyde go on a spree, hold up a bunch of banks, it causes a sensation, there’s a trial, and they’re acquitted. They walk out of the courthouse, get in a car, rob a bank, get hauled in, complain they’re being picked on—“Why are you always following us?”—and again, not guilty. They rob the next bank and no one cares. “That’s just Bonnie and Clyde doing what Bonnie and Clyde do. No one else cares, why should I?”

Mr. Schweizer announces upfront that he cannot prove wrongdoing, only patterns of behavior. There is no memo that says, “To all staff: If we deal this week with any issues regarding Country A, I want you to know country A just gave my husband $750,000 for a speech, so give them what they want.” Even if Mrs. Clinton hadn’t destroyed her emails, no such memo would be found. (Though patterns, dates and dynamics might be discerned.)

Mr. Schweizer writes of “the flow of tens of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation . . . from foreign governments, corporations, and financiers.” It is illegal for foreign nationals to give to U.S. political campaigns, but foreign money, given as donations to the Clinton Foundation or speaking fees, comes in huge amounts: “No one has even come close in recent years to enriching themselves on the scale of the Clintons while they or a spouse continued to serve in public office.” The speaking fees Bill commands are “enormous and unprecedented,” as high as $750,000 a speech. On occasion they have been paid by nations or entities that had “matters of importance sitting on Hillary’s desk” when she was at State.

From 2001 through 2012 Bill collected $105.5 million for speeches and raised hundreds of millions for the foundation. When she was nominated, Hillary said she saw no conflict. President Obama pressed for a memorandum of understanding in which the Clintons would agree to submit speeches to State’s ethics office, disclose the names of major donors to the foundation, and seek administration approval before accepting direct contributions to the foundation from foreign governments. The Clintons accepted the agreement and violated it “almost immediately.” Revealingly, they amassed wealth primarily by operating “at the fringes of the developed world.” Their “most lucrative transactions” did not involve countries like Germany and Britain, where modern ethical rules and procedures are in force, but emerging nations, where regulations are lax.

How did it work? “Bill flew around the world making speeches and burnishing his reputation as a global humanitarian and wise man. Very often on these trips he was accompanied by ‘close friends’ or associates who happened to have business interests pending in these countries.” Introductions were made, conversations had. “Meanwhile, bureaucratic or legislative obstacles were mysteriously cleared or approvals granted within the purview of his wife, the powerful senator or secretary of state.”

Mr. Schweizer tells a story with national-security implications. Kazakhstan has rich uranium deposits, coveted by those who’d make or sell nuclear reactors or bombs. In 2006 Bill Clinton meets publicly and privately with Kazakhstan’s dictator, an unsavory character in need of respectability. Bill brings along a friend, a Canadian mining tycoon named Frank Giustra. Mr. Giustra wanted some mines. Then the deal was held up. A Kazakh official later said Sen. Clinton became involved. Mr. Giustra got what he wanted.

Soon after, he gave the Clinton Foundation $31.3 million. A year later Mr. Giustra’s company merged with a South African concern called Uranium One. Shareholders later wrote millions of dollars in checks to the Clinton Foundation. Mr. Giustra announced a commitment of $100 million to a joint venture, the Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative.

It doesn’t end there. When Hillary was secretary of state, Russia moved for a bigger piece of the world uranium market. The Russians wanted to acquire Uranium One, which had significant holdings in the U.S. That meant the acquisition would require federal approval. Many had reservations: Would Russian control of so much U.S. uranium be in America’s interests? The State Department was among the agencies that had to sign off. Money from interested parties rolled into the foundation. The deal was approved. The result? “Half of projected American uranium production” was “transferred to a private company controlled” by Russia, which soon owned it outright.

What would a man like Vladimir Putin think when he finds out he can work the U.S. system like this? He’d think it deeply decadent. He’d think it weak. Is that why he laughs when we lecture him on morals?

Mr. Schweizer offers a tough view of the Clinton Foundation itself. It is not a “traditional charity,” in that there is a problem “delineating where the Clinton political machines and moneymaking ventures end and where their charity begins.” The causes it promotes—preventing obesity, alleviating AIDS suffering—are worthy, and it does some good, but mostly it functions as a middleman. The foundation’s website shows the Clintons holding sick children in Africa, but unlike Doctors Without Borders and Samaritan’s Purse, the foundation does “little hands-on humanitarian work.” It employs longtime Clinton associates and aides, providing jobs “to those who served the Clintons when in power and who may serve them again.” The Better Business Bureau in 2013 said it failed to meet minimum standards of accountability and transparency. Mr. Schweizer notes that “at least four Clinton Foundation trustees have either been charged or convicted of financial crimes including bribery and fraud.”

There’s more. Mrs. Clinton has yet to address any of it.

If the book is true—if it’s half-true—it is a dirty story.

It would be good if the public, the Democratic Party and the Washington political class would register some horror, or at least dismay.

I write on the eve of the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, May 8, 1945. America had just saved the world. The leaders of the world respected us—a great people led by tough men. What do they think now? Scary to think, isn’t it?

Republican Field, Mellow Edition

I find myself feeling mellow on the subject of 2016. I have nonspecific affection and sympathy for everyone. Actually when I think of the Republican field the picture that comes to mind is of Cloris Leachman in the movie “Spanglish.” Merrily: “I love you. I love everybody, that’s what killed me.” I am interested that wherever I go people say “Who’s going to win?” and when I say I have no idea they say, “No, really?” There are many Americans these days who think there are other Americans who have the lowdown inside scoop and should share it. I told a woman the other day that when I ask 20 Republicans who they like I get a lot of different answers including, often, “I don’t know.” She looked skeptical. Who do you like, I asked. She said, “I don’t know—any of them!” Republicans strike me right now as both chipper and dour. Chipper: Whoever we get, it will be better than the guy in the White House. Dour: But maybe America will just go for Hillary. They all follow the polls. They should take heart from the terrible pre-election polls in Britain. There may be a lot of shy Tories in America, too. Slay me, Nate Silver.

*   *   *

Having listened a few times to to Megyn Kelly and Jeb Bush on Iraq, I have to think he misunderstood the question either honestly or conveniently.

Kelly: “On the subject of Iraq . . . knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?”

Bush: “I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”

Kelly: “You don’t think it was a mistake?”

Bush: “In retrospect the intelligence that everybody saw, that the world saw, not just the United States, was faulty.”

Bush seems at first to be answering the question, “Would you as president in 2003 have invaded Iraq as your brother did?” And he seems to answer in the affirmative: Yes, because of the intelligence, and Hillary Clinton would have done the same.

But that isn’t what Kelly asked. She said: Knowing what we know now would you have invaded? Meaning, knowing how it turned out—knowing we would not find weapons of mass destruction, knowing a destabilized Iraq would produce many bitter outcomes, knowing 12 years later the war would be unwon, knowing we had illusions about Iraq’s ability or willingness to transform itself into a peaceful constitutional democracy—would you have invaded? He doesn’t answer that question.

So he’ll be asked it again, and should be prepared.

If his honest answer is, “No, knowing what we now know I would not have invaded,” it will be a big story for a while, with headlines like “Jeb: Iraq Was a Mistake—Breaks With Brother on Most Consequential Decision of Presidency.” But as an answer it will be in line with the thinking of the majority of Americans. If the answer is “Yes, I still would have invaded even knowing what we know” that will likely set off a firestorm, and last longer.

It is hard for me to believe he doesn’t think invading Iraq was a blunder. I wonder if he feels he can say it.

In any case he’ll be asked again. There was never going to be any dodging of this question.

*   *   *

A friend this morning sent a note, jeering at Scott Walker for having significant personal debt. He linked to this story. My friend’s tone suggested the debt makes Walker look less impressive as an individual and less viable as a presidential candidate.

My reaction was the opposite. To me the story made Walker look normal. (That in fact was my impression of him when I met him about a year ago for coffee at a New York restaurant. I was late. He was at a small table alone, reading some papers. No aides, no staff, no security, just a guy at a table, a Midwestern businessman having a cup of coffee between meetings. He also acted normal. This was so startling to me—politicians now are so often weird, outsized, faintly deranged—that I couldn’t stop thinking about it.) According to the piece Walker owes up to $50,000 to Sears and some perhaps similar amount on another card. His spokeswoman said well, yeah, he’s got two kids in college and his parents live with him. His yearly salary is $144,423. More jaw dropping: his net worth is minus $72,500. Meaning he has done a great deal of work and accomplished many things over the years and never bothered to make himself rich. This is so refreshing—public service that is not, apparently, a self-enrichment project—that I can’t help but think we should tip our hats. Good for him for doing it the old-fashioned way. As for its impact on his appeal, unless I’m very wrong, a lot of Americans will feel not derisive about his financial condition but almost touched. “Harry Truman had no money either.”

My friend said Walker’s lack of wealth suggests he can be bought. I’m seeing it the opposite: if he hasn’t sold himself yet, it suggests he is not for sale.

*   *   *

The other day I spoke to Mike Huckabee. He’d announced just the day before. I liked his speech, kind of warmly fiery. He’s under great pressure for not joining the call to cut entitlement spending. But the way he argued for his position cut through, had a certain moral force, and will have plenty of appeal:

“Some propose that to save safety nets like Medicare and Social Security, we need to chop off the payouts for the people who have faithfully had their paychecks and pockets picked by the politicians promising that their money would be waiting for them when they were old and sick. You were forced to pay for Social Security and Medicare for 50 years. The government grabs money from our paychecks and says it will be waiting for us when we turn 65. If Congress wants to take away someone’s retirement, let them end their own congressional pensions—not your Social Security. As president, I promise you will get what you paid for.”

That’s written in a way—you’ll get what you paid for—that might give him room to maneuver as president. Here I note that it is the politician who has a natural, visceral and well-known opposition to something who is best situated to do it and get away with it. Nixon could go to China because he was rather on record as not liking commies; Reagan could raise taxes in 1983 because he hated them, so if he did he probably had to. I suspect it is an amnesty foe who will be best situated to down the road get some form of immigration reform through. Huckabee, viscerally opposed to reform that comes on the backs of the people, and with a reputation as a spender as governor, could be well-positioned to get some sort of entitlement deal through.

From our telephone interview:

What is Huckabee conservatism? “Taxes ought not to punish productivity and reward irresponsibility. That’s why I’m a proponent of the fair tax. Second, that we would turn loose true capitalism but not crony-insider capitalism that dominates the American economy today.” He referred to “the Washington-to-Wall Street axis of power.” He said: “Outside that loop there’s no sense of recovery.”

That sounds pretty populist. Is he a populist? “People say ‘Huckabee is a populist.’ If it means I have a connection to those who do not have any connection to that axis of power than yes.”

What is the American mood right now? “I think the mood is frustrated with a dysfunctional government that is so disconnected with the lives people really live. . . . The economy isn’t in recovery. You need to talk to the people I talk to each day. Their economy is stumbling. No one in Washington cares less about what’s going on in their lives, across all the demographics of race, gender, age, religion.” You see the detachment from real life in the “inane questions from journalists” who obsess on polls and process. “I’m thinking seriously, there are millions out of work, high rent, foreclosures.” It is producing a national “loss of dignity of which Washington, D.C., is not aware.”

What is the biggest misconception about you? That he’s “a big government guy.” He feels he governed effectively “in a hard-core Democratic state . . . with a structure that was far more partisan. . . . A lot of the think tanks that evaluate states have a template that does not account for the political dynamics (in those states), who has power to do what. They compare Arkansas to Texas or California. They’re not applicable.”

I asked if he thought the impact of his popular Saturday-night show on Fox, and his radio broadcasts, might be comparable in effect to the television and radio work of Ronald Reagan. Does he think the impression he made might have a residual power that isn’t sufficiently appreciated? “Gosh, I hope it does.” He thinks it will help protect him from attacks. “One of the things that was very evident was where I was easily defined eight years ago by opponents, now when people throw the nastiest stuff . . . people being polled say, ‘No, I like Huckabee, I see him on TV, hear him on the radio.’”

There’s a “misguided narrative” of the 2008 campaign that says he had only evangelical support. “Where I had most support was working-class people disconnected from the political elite, and some were evangelical and some not.” He sees “disaffected, struggling” working-class people as his natural base. “I wanna be faithful, speak not just to them but for them.”

Are you too kind of Southern/hokey/cornball to get the nomination in a party that after eight years of Obama is feeling tougher, hungrier, maybe harder? You can’t see someone bridle over the phone but I sensed bridling. “What people want more than geography, region or accent is a history of leading. I went into a harsh Democratic environment [as governor of Arkansas] and got 95% of my record passed. If they really want to win they need someone not only with a history of fighting but winning.”

He ended with political philosophy. “Elections are won vertically, not horizontally. Horizontal politics is liberals versus conservatives, Democrats versus Republicans. But the people in the middle who swing the election, they don’t think or vote horizontally. They are not left and right, they are ‘Are you taking me up or down?’ If they see your optimism and record they’ll vote for you. People perceived Obama vertically, not horizontally.”

Hillary’s Ungainly Glide

I’m off the next two weeks finishing a book, and I can already tell you this is a terrible time to be away from the scene. Hillary Clinton’s announcement followed by her dark-windowed SUV journey into deepest darkest America was the most inept, phony, shallow, slickily-slick and meaningless launch of a presidential candidacy I have ever seen. We have come to quite a pass when the Clintons can’t even do the show business of politics well. The whole extravaganza has the look of profound incompetence and disorganization—no one could have been thinking this through—or profound cynicism, or both. It has yielded only one good thing, and that is a memorable line, as Mrs. Clinton glided by reporters: “We do have a plan. We have a plan for my plan.” That is how the Washington Post quoted her, on ideas on campaign finance reform.

Marco Rubio had a pretty great announcement in that it made the political class look at him in a new way, and a better way. I have heard him talk about his father the bartender I suppose half a dozen times, yet hearing it again in his announcement moved me. I don’t know how that happened. John Boehner is the son of a barkeep. It has occurred to me a lot recently that many if not most of the people I see in the highest reaches of American life now come from relatively modest circumstances. Rubio is right that this is our glory, but I’m thinking one of the greatest things about America is a larger point: There’s room for everybody. You can rise if you come from one of the most established, wealthiest families, and you can rise if you came from nothing. I have promised myself I will stop talking about the musical “Hamilton” and so will not note that this is one of the points made in the musical “Hamilton”: America was special in this regard from the beginning, with landed gentry like Jefferson and Washington working side by side with those such as the modestly born Ben Franklin and the lowborn Alexander Hamilton. But now it is more so. Anyway, back to Rubio: “Yesterday’s over” was good, and strict, and was a two shot applying as much to the Clintons as the Bushes.

Two points on the general feel of the 2016 campaign so far.

One is that in the case of Mrs. Clinton we are going to see the press act either like the press of a great nation—hungry, raucous, alive, demanding—or like a hopelessly sickened organism, a big flailing octopus with no strength in its arms, lying like a greasy blob at the bottom of the sea, dying of ideology poisoning.

Republicans know—they see it every day—that Republican candidates get grilled, sometimes impertinently, and pressed, sometimes brusquely. And it isn’t true that they’re only questioned in this way once they announce, Scott Walker has been treated like this also, and he has yet to announce. Republicans see this, and then they see that Mrs. Clinton isn’t grilled, is never forced to submit to anyone’s morning-show impertinence, is never the object of the snotty question or the sharp demand for information. She gets the glide. She waves at the crowds and the press and glides by. No one pushes. No one shouts the rude question or rolls out the carefully scripted set of studio inquiries meant to make the candidate squirm. She is treated like the queen of England, who also isn’t subjected to impertinent questions as she glides into and out of venues. But she is the queen. We are not supposed to have queens.

Second point: We have simply never had a dynamic like the one that seems likely to prevail next year.

On the Republican side there is a good deep bench and there will be a hell of a fight among serious and estimable contenders. A handful of them—Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rubio, maybe Bobby Jindal—are first-rate debaters, sharp advancers of a thought and a direction. Their debates, their campaigning, their oppo geniuses, their negative ads—it’s all going to be bloody. Will the American people look at them in 2016 and see dynamism and excitement and youth and actual ideas and serious debate? Will it look like that’s where the lightning’s striking and the words have meaning? Will it fortify and revivify the Republican brand? Or will it all look like mayhem and chaos? Will the eventual winner emerge a year from now too bloodied, too damaged to go on and win in November? Will the party itself look bloody and damaged?

On the Democratic side we have Mrs. Clinton, gliding. If she has no serious competition, will the singularity of her situation make her look stable, worthy of reflexive respect, accomplished, serene, the obvious superior choice? Or will Hillary alone on the stage, or the couch, or in the tinted-window SUV, look entitled, presumptuous, old, boring, imperious, yesterday?

Will it all come down to bloody versus boring?

And which would America prefer?