The most Reaganesque candidate in 2016 will be…

Daniel W. Drezner
July 25
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“Join me, and we will bring an end to these destructive conflicts.” Vote Vader 2016: It Is Your Destiny.

As you may know, earlier this week the good folks at FiveThirtyEight polled Americans about the Star Wars characters, even including, “a boilerplate format used by political favorability polls” of favorable/unfavorable ratings, noting the surprising/not-surprising finding that Jar-Jar Binks has lower favorability ratings than Darth Vader.  

Ever since, my colleagues here at the Washington Post have been taking this data and running with it.  Over at Wonkblog, Christopher Ingraham noted that, “None of the 2016 [presidential] hopefuls is polling higher than Darth Vader…. These numbers suggest that if “Star Wars” were real and Darth Vader decided to enter the 2016 presidential race, he’d be the immediate front-runner.”  At which point ComPost’s Alexandra Petri inflated the trial balloon even further, urging Vader to take the invisible primary seriously and enter the 2016 race:  

He has yet to publish a memoir, either a tell-all or a Clinton-style tell-nothing. His working title, “Dreams From Luke’s Father,” seems promising, though. He is active on Twitter, under several accounts. Literally all his tweets are gaffes, if viewed from the perspective of someone running for public office. There is no Vader SuperPAC, although he is strongly supported by a Superstar Destroyer and has a strong track record of taking direction from sinister behind-the-throne figures. So it’s only a matter of time.

For now, this boomlet has only been hyped by the Beltway media — but could Vader really survive and thrive in this world of hyperpartisanship and polarization? Fortunately, we actually know his early thinking about this:

I mean, anyone who can preach the theoretical virtues of dictatorship while wooing an incumbent senator at the same time is clearly a character suffering from  God-awful screenwriting of great abilities.

But what about Vader’s national security credentials?  Isn’t Vader a servant of the evil Galactic Empire?!  Vader’s strong polling suggests that Americans have a more nuanced view of this character and his track record.  As Jonathan Last brilliantly observed more than a decade ago, the Empire has gotten a bad rap:

[T]he most compelling evidence that the Empire isn’t evil comes in “The Empire Strikes Back” when Darth Vader is battling Luke Skywalker. After an exhausting fight, Vader is poised to finish Luke off, but he stays his hand. He tries to convert Luke to the Dark Side with this simple plea: “There is no escape. Don’t make me destroy you. . . . Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.” It is here we find the real controlling impulse for the Dark Side and the Empire. The Empire doesn’t want slaves or destruction or “evil.” It wants order.

Indeed, if Vader possesses any consistent national security position, it’s the crushing of rebels and separatists and the preservation of state order.  Which, as it turns out, is exactly what neoconservatives want our current president to do in Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.  Consider Stephen F. Hayes’ lament in the Weekly Standard:

In Obama’s telling, the chaos Americans see on their television screens every night​—​more than 150,000 slaughtered in Syria, a terrorist army taking over major cities in Iraq, dozens of rockets daily targeting citizens of Israel, nearly 300 innocent travelers dead after a surface-to-air missile downs a passenger plane, and continued Russian aggression​—​is just part of a natural evolution. In the old world order, the United States played a dominant role. In the new one, we will not. With a rhetorical shrug of his shoulders, Obama says that these things may be unpleasant, but better days are ahead​—​a new order based on a “different set of principles” with “economies that work for all people” and a “sense of common humanity.”….

This is naïve and dangerous. There are serious consequences to the United States relinquishing power and influence. We’re living them​—​and so are people in the rest of the world.

Charles Krauthammer concurs: “A real U.S. president would give Kiev the weapons it needs, impose devastating sectoral sanctions on Moscow, reinstate our Central European missile-defense system and make a Reaganesque speech explaining why.”

These commentators are just aching for a strong leader to bring order to this planet.  Vader is that leader, and I, for one, welcome the chance to burnish the Lord of the Sith’s national security credentials.  Come 2016, he would be the most Reaganesque candidate in the GOP field.

Vader’s track record reveals a battle-tested, experienced leader who knows how to crush insurgents.  Almost single-handedly, Lord Vader brought about an end to the Clone Wars and ended a destructive conflict with separatists.  He favors a strong and large defense budget to ensure the maintenance of peace and stability.  For a generation he was the Emperor’s right-hand man, ensuring stability throughout the galaxy.  If it were not for the incompetence of his underlings, he would have extinguished the rebellion on the ice planet of Hoth.

Now, some might object at this point to Vader’s controversial, dictatorial tendencies — but I would argue that he was really the galaxy’s first compassionate conservative.  After all, when put to the test, Vader proved to be a strict constructionist who refused to join Mace Windu’s extralegal effort to oust the sitting chancellor and preserve the Jedi’s rent-seeking cartel.  When asked to stop force-choking someone who disagrees with him, he complies.  He believed that he was bringing peace, freedom, justice and security to the galaxy because of his actions during the Clone Wars.  Even if he might have been wrong, you can’t doubt his good intentions. Sure, mistakes were made when he severed his only son’s arm, but he really didn’t want to do that — and then he offered mercy to him, asking Luke to join him in ending the destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.  And as Vader reminds his underlings, the Emperor is far less forgiving than him.  Like Reagan, Vader knows when to be tough with his adversaries, and when to offer mercy.

Darth Vader is not a perfect presidential candidate — but who is in this crazy, mixed-up world of ours?  He’s someone who has fought for peace and order over two generations.  In a world of hideous complexity, he knows how to deal in absolutes.  So I join my colleagues in saying:  Vote Vader 2016.  It Is Your Destiny.

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