At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Exploring the Republican Paradox

posted by Jack Kerwick

The Republican conceives of his party as the party of conservatism, the Constitution, and “limited government.”  For this reason, he loathes the so-called “RINO” (Republican In Name Only), the faux conservative who comes like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  At the same time, however, on those all too rare occasions when a genuine conservative, Constitutionalist comes along, the “conservative” Republican refuses to support that for which he claimed to ardently wish.

There are two current, mutually reinforcing illustrations of this paradox.  The first is the response on the part of Republicans to Newt Gingrich’s latest remarks.  The second is the response of those same Republicans to Ron Paul’s presidential candidacy. We shall look at them in this order.

Last weekend, while on Meet the Press, Gingrich not only refused to endorse Paul Ryan’s plan to reform Medicare; he explicitly and unequivocally rejected it.  “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” the former Speaker of the House asserted. Whether “radical change” is imposed via “Obamacare” or courtesy of plans authored by a “conservative” like Ryan, Gingrich is equally opposed to both.  “I’m opposed to Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative proposing radical change.” 

As if this wasn’t enough to convince the GOP faithful that Gingrich is no conservative, he then turned around to advocate a “variation,” as he characterized it, of the controversial “individual mandate” that is among the most salient of the constitutionally dubious aspects of the much dreaded “Obamacare.” 

The swiftness with which legions of the Republican Party faithful have declared Gingrich a faux conservative is a puzzling phenomenon, for many of the same “conservative” voters who are now slamming Gingrich have supported and continue to support Republicans—whether George W. Bush, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, etc.—whose political differences with Gingrich are, for all practical purposes, negligible.  We have no reason for believing that a President Gingrich would govern any less—and any more—“conservatively” than a President Bush, President McCain, President Santorum, President Huckabee, President Romney, or President Palin. 

Each will be just as enthusiastic as all of the others to grow the military ever more for the sake of furthering the crusade to export “Democracy” to the Middle East and beyond. And when it comes to domestic policy, none will express any enthusiasm in the least over the prospect of truly weakening the federal government by eliminating the leviathan of entitlements and bureaucracies of which it consists.

There is another reason why the Republican voter’s demand for truly “conservative” candidates can’t but engage the intellectually curious.  This brings us to Ron Paul.          

Paul is the one presidential candidate in the current Republican field who most certainly does promise to govern more conservatively—and dramatically so—than all of the rest, for he is the only person resolved to honor the Constitution and its original design for America. That is, he is the only person with the determination to bring about the restoration of the old Constitutional Republic that “conservatives” claim they desire.

Moreover, Paul has been billed “the Godfather” of the very Tea Party movement with which the Republican Party has labored tirelessly to align itself ever since it first emerged but two years ago. 

While Paul may or may not be the sole or even primary progenitor of the Tea Party movement that some have depicted him as being, there are few who would be comfortable denying that he is indeed among the sources of inspiration from which it arose.  And there is no one who can credibly deny that the ideas for which Paul argued a few years ago and for which he was roundly ridiculed by his Republican colleagues are for the most part the ideas that define the Tea Party and the whole political climate today. 

Simply put, there is no one in the Republican primaries whose vision of the Constitution and the Republic whose terms it delineates approximates more closely than Paul’s that of the Founders.  

In spite of this, it is a virtual certainty that he will not receive the GOP’s nomination.

So, what accounts for this paradox that is all too seldom unpacked?

The truth is that the “conservative” Republican suffers an identity-crisis—and Paul, perhaps even involuntarily, draws his attention to it.

Effortlessly, Paul at once exposes two dirty little secrets about his fellow partisans.  The first is that they are virtually interchangeable with one another with respect to domestic and foreign policy issues.  The second is that they are virtually interchangeable with Democrats when it comes to these same issues.

In short, Paul puts the lie to the Republican fiction that the Republican Party is America’s “conservative” party.  

Someone like Paul makes many Republicans uncomfortable with themselves.  He beckons them to revisit their identity as “conservatives.”  But introspection is hard work and most people prefer to avoid it.  Thus, they would rather attack, ridicule, and otherwise marginalize those who challenge them.  Conversely, they would prefer to associate with those who reinforce the myths that they have come to accept about themselves.

This, I surmise, is why Republicans reject a political conservative or “constitutionalist” like Paul when they have the opportunity to endorse him.  It is this that accounts for why they fool themselves and one another into believing that there are gradations of “conservatism” among candidates who for all intents and purposes are indistinguishable from one another—and their Democratic rivals.    

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at The New American

The Tea Party versus the Republican

posted by Jack Kerwick

Thus far, the field of GOP presidential contenders, actual and potential, isn’t looking too terribly promising. 

This, though, isn’t meant to suggest that any of the candidates, all things being equal, lack what it takes to insure that Barack Obama never sees the light of a second term; nor is it the case that I find none of the candidates appealing.  Rather, I simply mean that at this juncture, the party faithful is far from unanimously energized over any of them.

It is true that it was the rapidity and aggressiveness with which President Obama proceeded to impose his perilous designs upon the country that proved to be the final spark to ignite the Tea Party movement.  But the chain of events that lead to its emergence began long before Obama was elected.  That is, it was actually the disenchantment with the Republican Party under our “compassionate conservative” president, George W. Bush, which overcame legions of conservatives that was the initial inspiration that gave rise to the Tea Party.

It is this frustration with the GOP’s betrayal of the values that it affirms that accounts for why the overwhelming majority of those who associate with or otherwise sympathize with the Tea Party movement refuse to explicitly or formally identify with the Republican Party.  And it is this frustration that informs the Tea Partiers’ threat to create a third party in the event that the GOP continues business as usual. 

If and when those conservatives and libertarians who compose the bulk of the Tea Party, decided that the Republican establishment has yet to learn the lessons of ’06 and ’08, choose to follow through with their promise, they will invariably be met by Republicans with two distinct by interrelated objections.

First, they will be told that they are utopian, “purists” foolishly holding out for an “ideal” candidate.  Second, because virtually all members of the Tea Party would have otherwise voted Republican if not for this new third party, they will be castigated for essentially giving elections away to Democrats.

Both of these criticisms are, at best, misplaced; at worst, they are just disingenuous.  At any rate, they are easily answerable. 

Let’s begin with the argument against “purism.” To this line, two replies are in the coming.  

No one, as far as I have ever been able to determine, refuses to vote for anyone who isn’t an ideal candidate.  Ideal candidates, by definition, don’t exist.  This, after all, is what makes them ideal.  This counter-objection alone suffices to expose the argument of the Anti-Purist as so much counterfeit.  But there is another consideration that militates decisively against it.

A Tea Partier who refrains from voting for a Republican candidate who shares few if any of his beliefs can no more be accused of holding out for an ideal candidate than can someone who refuses to marry a person with whom he has little to anything in common be accused of holding out for an ideal spouse.  In other words, the object of the argument against purism is the most glaring of straw men: “I will not vote for a thoroughly flawed candidate” is one thing; “I will only vote for a perfect candidate” is something else entirely.

As for the second objection against the Tea Partier’s rejection of those Republican candidates who eschew his values and convictions, it can be dispensed with just as effortlessly as the first.

Every election season—and at no time more so than this past season—Republicans pledge to “reform Washington,” “trim down” the federal government, and so forth.  Once, however, they get elected and they conduct themselves with none of the confidence and enthusiasm with which they expressed themselves on the campaign trail, those who placed them in office are treated to one lecture after the other on the need for “compromise” and “patience.” 

Well, when the Tea Partier’s impatience with establishment Republican candidates intimates a Democratic victory, he can use this same line of reasoning against his Republican critics.  My dislike for the Democratic Party is second to none, he can insist. But in order to advance in the long run my conservative or Constitutionalist values, it may be necessary to compromise some in the short term. 

For example, as Glenn Beck once correctly noted in an interview with Katie Couric, had John McCain been elected in 2008, it is not at all improbable that, in the final analysis, the country would have been worse off than it is under a President Obama.  McCain would have furthered the country’s leftward drift, but because this movement would have been slower, and because McCain is a Republican, it is not likely that the apparent awakening that occurred under Obama would have occurred under McCain.

It may be worth it, the Tea Partier can tell Republicans, for the GOP to lose some elections if it means that conservatives—and the country—will ultimately win. 

If he didn’t know it before, the Tea Partier now knows that accepting short-term loss in exchange for long-term gain is the essence of compromise, the essence of politics. 

Ironically, he can thank the Republican for impressing this so indelibly upon him.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

Republican Fictions

posted by Jack Kerwick

Every presidential election season, those of us who find ourselves less than enthused regarding the GOP’s potential nominees—conservatives—are invariably castigated by politicians and pundits alike as “purists.”  We are unrealistic, we are told by the self-styled champions of “conservative values”—the Anti-Purists—in expecting an “ideal candidate.”  We are reminded furthermore that should we decide to sit out the election or cast a “protest” vote, we will, in effect, have casted a vote for the Democratic contender.  When, as is usually the case, disenchantment with the Republican candidate stems from the perception that he or she is a bit too accommodating of “abortion rights,” the conservative is scolded for being a “one-issue” voter.

We who wish to stay the leftward drift in which our country has been caught up for far too long need to grasp one crucial point: each of the foregoing claims is baseless.  In fact, so great is the difficulty in accepting that anyone genuinely believes them, it is tempting to call them lies.

I don’t know of anyone who has ever endorsed anyone who he could in good faith characterize as his ideal candidate; and I would be willing to bet anything that neither have the self-appointed guardians of Republican “conservative” orthodoxy ever encountered anyone fitting this description.  That a person refuses to vote for someone who fails to remotely approximate his ideal of a candidate doesn’t mean that he refuses to vote unless and until a candidate runs who perfectly embodies that ideal.  There is nothing “purist” about such a person.

By abstaining to vote Republican, one does indeed make it easier for Democrats to win.  But this is what philosophers call a tautology: it is trivially true and, thus, insufficiently enlightening. In other words: so what?  Presumably, it is precisely because the disaffected Republican thinks that the GOP candidate is virtually indistinguishable from his Democratic rival that he refrains from voting in the first place. 

The Anti-Purist will object that while the Republican may very well be far from ideal, he or she isn’t as likely to undercut “conservative values” as the Democrat.  Thus, it makes no sense for a conservative not to vote for the Republican. 

This objection, unfortunately, isn’t nearly as sensible as first glance may suggest.  In fact, the conservative has a counter-objection ready at hand.  The conservative need only reply that, in the long-term—and it is the long-term with which we are all, in the long-term, concerned, correct?—his vision for his country stands a greater chance of being implemented if the Republican actually loses the next election.  After all, if the Anti-Purist isn’t guilty of compromising his beliefs by voting for a Republican that doesn’t share them, then the conservative isn’t guilty of compromising his by acting in a way that could lead to a Democrat victory.

For as disastrous a president as Barack Obama undeniably is, had John McCain been elected in 2008, chances are not too shabby that the backlash against “Big Government” that we have witnessed during the last two years and emblematized by the Tea Party would not have occurred.  This wouldn’t have been because of any commitment on McCain’s part to Constitutional principles; McCain has no such commitment.  But because he isn’t quite as far to the left as Obama, and because he is a Republican and any resistance to further consolidation of the federal government’s power is only going to derive from those already disposed to sympathize with the GOP’s platform, McCain’s Big Government philosophy would have persisted unchallenged.     

Yet there is an even juicier counter-response at the conservative’s disposal.  Ultimately, he can say, it isn’t his decision to sit out the next election that may account for the Republicans’ loss; it is the Republicans’ betrayal of their own plank and, hence, their constituents, that explain their opponents’ win.  And this is the truth.

Finally, there is this business of the conservative’s being a “one-issue” voter.  It is true that for everyone there are some issues that weigh more heavily than others.  Yet it is equally true that the Anti-Purist is no less a “one-issue” voter than the conservative. All that differentiates him from the object of his criticism is the content of his concerns. 

The issue that matters most to the Anti-Purist is foreign-policy related.  It goes by different names: American Exceptionalism, American Interventionism, and, most recently, the War on Terror.  The various names notwithstanding, the Anti-Purist knows exactly what he wants: the Democratization of the non-democratic world.  As the example of Ron Paul makes abundantly clear, the Anti-Purist promises to be astronomically more tenacious toward a Republican who lacks this desire than he would ever think of being toward his Democratic rivals.  Indeed, Democrats aren’t as ruthless toward Republicans generally as the Anti-Purist is ruthless toward those Republicans devoid of his enthusiasm for militarily-driven projects to promote “American values” around the globe. 

It is high time for conservatives to expose the Anti-Purists for who they are.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published in The New American 


The Anachronism called the United States Constitution

posted by Jack Kerwick

From the time Barack Obama received the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, his detractors to his right have repeatedly lambasted him for his disdain for the Constitution.  From FOX News personalities to talk radio hosts, many are the self-professed champions of the Constitution who spare no occasion to warn the rest of us of the “radical” designs that Obama and his minions seek to impose upon the Republic bequeathed to us by the Founders.  

Lest there be any confusion over what follows, let the record note that President Obama most definitely is contemptuous toward the Constitutional Republic that our Founders sacrificed all to establish.  I will go even further: even though he wouldn’t dare say as much, given what is known of his ideology—an ideology notable not only for its unmistakably leftist ideals, but for its racialism—Obama, I am afraid, is probably quite contemptuous toward the Founders themselves (the Constitutional convention was, after all, whiter than a Tea Party rally!).    

What his opponents say about him, in other words, is true and then some.

But while his Republican opponents may be truthful as far they go, they don’t go nearly far enough, for in calling attention to the speck in Obama’s eye, they fail to recognize the beam in their own. 

The Constitution that such establishment “conservatives” tirelessly invoke has been rendered largely irrelevant by both Republican and Democrat alike.  And this has been the case for a long, long time.  In fact, ironically, the case can and has been made, and with far more eloquence and force than I am capable of mustering at this juncture, that if we could identify one person who could be said to have hammered the first nail in the coffin of the Constitutional Republic of our Founders, it was a Republican: Abraham Lincoln. 

From the time of the War Between the States, America has assumed a shape that the Founding generation would have found abhorrent, for from that moment, the individual states—sovereign entities all of them—were essentially reduced to agents of the national government that they created.  Thanks to the labors of “Honest Abe”—who Republicans and “conservatives” still regard as America’s best president—the father became the son and the son the father as the creature overcame its creators and the federal government broke loose of the fetters that the states had thrown upon it.

The kind of association delineated by the United States Constitution is what has been called a civil association. Political philosophers from throughout the centuries have invested much energy and imagination into distinguishing a civil association from other understandings of a state.  Whether it is Hobbes or Montesquieu, Hume or Kant, Burke or Oakeshott, a study of such portraits brings some common features into focus—features embodied by our Constitution.

First of all, the civil association to which our Constitution gives expression is indeed a moral association.  What this means, however, is that the terms of which it consists and with respect to which associates are related to one another are not devices for achieving substantive results; they are formal conditions—laws—that the associates are obligated to satisfy regardless of the results on which they set their sights.  Like any morality, the morality of civil association prescribes general principles that are indifferent to the many possible ways in which those principles can be lived out.  Or the laws of a civil association are like the rules of a game: they are impartial with respect to the players—who, in this case, are the associates (or citizens). 

Second, although we don’t literally misspeak when we speak of “Constitutional rights,” the predominance of such talk among Americans has blinded us to the fact that it is really obligations that the Constitution specifies, obligations that are equally distributed among the associates that compose the civil association that the Constitution defines.  For example, “freedom of speech” is nothing more or less than the obligation of each associate to refrain from impeding the liberty of every other associate to express himself.

In short, the Constitution consists of formal obligations to be fulfilled, not substantive plans to be executed.  That is, it tells us not what we have to do, but how we must act while doing whatever it is we choose to do. Today’s “conservatives,” though, like their leftist opponents, are ok with the government violating the Constitution, as long as the “what” that it pursues is to their liking.

The government delineated by our Constitution is basically a government divided against itself with the federal government assigned an exceptionally limited role.  Today’s “conservatives,” however, in spite of all of their rhetoric regarding “limited government,” to as great and quite possibly greater an extent than anyone else, have actually encouraged the homogenization of our once diverse government.  That is, through their endorsement of the criminalization of drugs and prostitution, Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, public education, an income tax, federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, No Child Left Behind, and “faith-based initiatives,” to say nothing of their support of an ever larger military and an elaborate “Homeland Security” apparatus—i.e. George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism”—these “conservatives” have actually strengthened the hold of the federal government over the states. 

In light of these reflections, contemporary appeals to the Constitution and the Founders on the part of “conservatives,” leftists, and almost everyone in between are, at the very best, anachronistic, for the vision of the Founders has long been a thing of the past.  

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published in The New American

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