Yesterday, news leaked that David French is Bill Kristol’s mystery candidate. He has not yet declared himself a candidate, but he is Kristol’s man. French is a veteran of the Iraq war, a recipient of the Bronze Star, and a constitutional lawyer. He’s the author of seven books, an adoptive father, and a stalwart conservative. He is not a career politician. He also happens to be one of my favorite writers—which is why I link to his National Review articles continuously.
In 2014, French delivered a commencement speech for a Christian home school group. The address says everything you need to know about why French would volunteer for the meat grinder of a presidential campaign. And make no mistake. That is what this campaign is going to be for him and his family. You should read the whole thing, but this excerpt says it all:
Embracing our responsibilities means leading with our actions, not just our words. Your words do not make you good. Your words do not make you virtuous. Your words do not make you admirable.
We live in an era where people say, with a straight face, that they are fighting for “social justice” by doing things like “speaking out” with a . . . hashtag. Yep, a hashtag. Or an Instagram post. Or a Facebook share.
Don’t confuse speaking with doing. There’s no shortage of Christians who wring their hands declaring, for example, that the church doesn’t do enough for widows and orphans, for the least of these. Wringing one’s hands about the church’s deficiencies — even apologizing for them to your secular friends (something that does nothing for the church but everything for you) — doesn’t put food in a single mouth.
Think the church doesn’t do enough for widows and orphans? Then care for widows and orphans.
Think your generation doesn’t do enough to serve your fellow man? Then serve your fellow man.
I’ll never forget when the reality of my own deficiencies hit me between the eyes. I was living in Philadelphia with my wife and (then) two kids — we have three now — and life was good. We had a great penthouse apartment, I had a great job “speaking out” for constitutional liberties like free speech and religious freedom, and — while not by any means wealthy — we certainly had enough money to enjoy life.
One evening I was reading the newspaper and came across two stories about the Iraq War. It was 2005, and the war was going badly. Sectarian violence was spinning out of control, and Army recruiting was suffering. It seemed that not many people wanted to join the military and be shipped off to fight a losing war.
The first article detailed the Army’s effort to recruit older soldiers. I read it, looked at my wife in disgust, and said something like, “America is just too soft to fight a long war.”
I kept reading on to the second story — describing a firefight in an Iraqi town — and read how an officer was wounded (a man about my age) and used a reporter’s satellite phone to literally call home, to tell his wife and two children that he was hurt but that he’d be ok.
That’s when my conscience stopped me cold. America wasn’t too soft to fight a long war. I was too soft.
And I had no excuse. Think about that wounded officer. Did he love his wife less than I loved my wife? Did he love his kids less than I love my kids? Yet he was risking everything, and I was risking nothing.
So I enlisted. I became a JAG officer in the United States Army and deployed to Iraq as part of the Surge in 2007 — attached to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.
And that brings me to my next point.
When you do speak, speak humbly from experience, not proudly — secure in the rightness of your opinion.
When I was your age, I knew a lot more than I know now. I was a voracious reader — my parents still have pictures of me sitting on the floor with encyclopedias fanned out around me — and my reading taught me what I needed to know. And oh how I lorded that knowledge over my less well-read peers.
In hindsight, I must have been moderately insufferable.
I thought I knew about the homeless, until I spent night after night in shelters in Nashville, talking to them, sleeping next to them, and making meals.
I thought I knew about inner cities, until I mentored a kid from the projects in East Nashville and gained just the smallest insights into his world.
I thought I knew I knew how to help the poor, until my wife and I reached out to the poorest and most desperate members of our community, naively certain that our love, concern, and money was enough — enough to change lives.
And I thought I knew about war, until I went to fight, lost friends, and saw the reality with my own eyes.
By God’s grace, I pray I’ll never think I know as much as I once thought I did.
Finally, as you humbly embrace the privilege others have given you, as you embrace your responsibilities by emphasizing doing over speaking and — when you do speak — speaking humbly from experience rather than proudly from opinion, your most critical responsibility will be to depend.
Depend completely on God.
On November 22, 2007 — remember that date — I flew into Forward Operating Base Caldwell in Diyala Province, Iraq, to start my deployment.
I was terrified.
What felt a bit like a heroic adventure from a distance felt foolish and scary up close. As I looked over the shoulder of the door gunner into the dark Iraqi night, I saw tracers arc across the night sky, and it felt all too real.
So I prayed. Hard. I asked God for peace, for assurance that I would make it home and that I would hold my wife and kids again.
No assurance came.
I prayed throughout my deployment. Every night when I fell asleep, every time a friend and brother fell, every time I put on my gear (we called it “battle rattle”) to go outside the wire.
No assurance came. No assurance ever came.
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