Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Two Philosophies

The back-and-forth over Senator Arlen Specter's party switch has stirred a couple of thoughts on the matter of how we should look at politics and what our philosophy of governance should be.

Basically, there are two ways to view politics: We can look at it as a game in which two sides compete for the prize of wielding power and garnering benefits for their team, or we can look at it as a moral calling to do what's in the best interests of the people of the United States. Much of the media commentary in the wake of Specter's jump to the Democrat party gives the impression that most people think of politics in the first way rather than the second. This, I think, is unfortuante.

People are saying the GOP needs to be broader in order to attract more young people, more pro-choicers, more blacks, etc. A party that has no room for an Arlen Specter, we're told, doesn't have a very big tent and is on the road to irrelevance and eventual extinction.

This strikes me as exactly wrong. In the first place there's no call from the media for Democrats to cast a wider net to attract conservatives into their party. How much diversity of opinion is there among congressional Democrats? How many social and/or fiscal conservatives are among that party's leadership?

But set that aside. The claim that needs to be addressed is that Specter's defection shows the Republican party must, if it is to save itself, become more like the Democrat party. In other words, what matters to those who are calling for the GOP to broaden their base of support is not principles but electoral success. When we unpack the arguments what we find is an appeal to Republicans not to let their convictions stand in the way of political expediency.

Not just liberals in the media but even many Republicans are saying that the party must get over it's infatuation with the policies of Ronald Reagan and get rid of Sarah Palin and other social conservatives. The party needs to drop its opposition, it is insisted, to abortion on demand and gay marriage, and it has to stop trying to mollify Christians. As long as these people have a say in deciding what the party stands for the party will never attract young people, blacks, or gays.

I think this is all shamefully wrong-headed. Political parties should stand for distinct philosophies of governance, and their differences should be clear to the voters. The electorate should be able to choose between clear alternatives which set of principles they wish to be governed by. If the people decide that they prefer liberal social, economic, and foreign policies to those advanced by conservatives, or vice-versa, they should know which party's candidates are most likely to stand for those policies.

That's how a republic works. We should be disgusted by politicians who say one thing to get elected and then govern differently. We should be disgusted by politicians who masquerade as people who hold one set of principles but really hold another. Some say that the people will always vote for those who promise to ease their way through life by showering benefits upon them rather than those who tell them the truth and insist they "take their medicine." They argue that if the GOP does the latter it will go the way of the Whig party. Maybe so, but if our electorate has degenerated to the point where all it wants is a government that usurps the freedoms that have been our birthright in exchange for pampering us from cradle to the grave, if the American people are that uneducated and self-centered that they will vote for whoever promises them the most goodies, then our democracy is on life support in any event.

Arlen Specter has always been moderate to liberal. As such he belongs in the Democratic party. If his switch hurts the GOP, and it does, so be it. Let's be principled and let's be honest. Deceiving the voters cannot be good for the health of our system of government. Let's have parties that clearly stand for something and let's not blur the distinctions. Least of all let's not yield to those who tell us that winning elections is more important than what we believe in.


Notre Dame and the Value of Life

Notre Dame alum Lacy Dodd offers a poignant autobiographical account of a young woman's anguish over an unwanted pregnancy. It's the kind of story that doesn't receive much publicity in the Big Media, but it should. It's also a story, though it hardly mentions it until the end, about Notre Dame's decision to invite Barack Obama to give the commencement address this year and confer upon him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Here's her opening:

For many members of the Notre Dame Class of 2009, the uproar surrounding the university's decision to honor Barack Obama with this year's commencement address, and to bestow on him a doctorate of laws, has provoked strong feelings about what the ensuing conflict will mean for their graduation.

I know how they feel. Ten years ago, my heart was filled with similar conflicts as we came closer to the day of my own Notre Dame commencement and my commissioning as an officer in the United States Army.

You see, I was three months pregnant.

Dodd's last paragraph is like a stilleto to the heart of the rationale for extending an invitation to President Obama to be honored by the university. Give it a read.