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Seamans: Political Folk Tale

03/17/10 7:55AM By Bill Seamans
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(HOST) Most of us are thinking about Saint Patrick today, but commentator Bill Seamans is thinking about Saint Anselm - and politics.

(SEAMANS) Like the legend of St. Patrick's Day, there's a political folk tale that says no one runs for president without speaking at the Institute of Politics at St. Anselms College.  This thought sets Republican hearts thumping because non-candidate General Petraeus will take the Institute's rostrum next week - coming to New Hampshire which has become a very strategic waystation on the path to the White House.  But wait a minute!  Petraeus's advent is not political - he's coming to give his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Then he will welcome questions - which may open the way to the rest of this story.

I will be very surprised if Petraeus is not asked, yet again, whether he has any presidential aspirations.  "I will not enter that minefield," he has firmly replied.  But the Beltway sees him as the most political general since Douglas MacArthur.  And it's not a secret that  presidential candidate John McCain wanted Petraeus as his running mate but had to settle for less.  Bob Dole has said about Petraeus - "It's time for another Eisenhower!"

Republicans see Petraeus as an undeclared conservative, as a warrior intellectual with a scandal-free family life including a son in the paratroopers.  They see him as their antidote for the noisy extreme right wing uprising of Palin, Tea Parties and toxic talk show hosts - they see professional and personal gravitas that commands respect.  Petraeus has survived the Pentagon's extreme political boot camp and has demonstrated his astute ability to evolve consensus among the generals under his command - as difficult as any civilian caucus.  He has been loyal to his Commanders in Chief - from President Bush whose surge Petraeus endorsed in his Congressional testimony - to declaring that "You have to talk to enemies" regarding President Obama's controversial desire to argue across the conference table to try to avoid the violence of terrorism and warfare.

Petraeus now is based here at home and whenever he speaks Republicans listen for some hint that he has decided to walk the political minefield.  He sometimes wears civvies instead of his uniform for Beltway social functions where political heavyweights can discreetly get his ear.

Now, all this sounds quite hypothetical, doesn't it?  But then when are politics not?  Clever candidate strategy would call for staying out right now while others pull their triggers in the circular firing squad that is now the image of the Republican party.  Entering too early would give the smear mongers more time to try to reduce a knight's shining armor to rust - no matter how noble he may be.  As a military man knows, timing is the essence of strategy.
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