Thursday, March 13, 2014

Welcome to our Party, would you tell us who we are and what we believe?

After my rant the other day on how the GOP is fundraising their way to more useful 'principles', a friend, Frank, asked a couple good questions about my take on it. But before getting to those, let me clear up what set me off about that email. I was not objecting to the GOP's making a legitimate attempt to gauge which issues were foremost in the minds of voters. I wasn't even objecting to their disorganized, confused, feeble and cynical attempt to manipulate voter's passions (objectionable, yes, but not what I was objecting to). What I objected to was the idea that finding the reddest of red meat issues could somehow be a useful means of identifying what could then be pawned off as the party's principles.

As appalling and ProRegressive as that is, it goes a long way towards explaining the behavior of the GOP today.

A political party, at least one that claims to stand for principles, doesn't poll voters to find out what it is that it believes. Instead, a political party, by virtue of being one, begins from a particular set of principles and beliefs that it is organized around and which it believes that no one else on the political landscape champions nearly as well. Right? That is their purpose for being! Those principles and beliefs are the very basis for rallying like minded voters around them, and the means for winning over those who haven't fully considered how those fundamentals could be used to resolve the contentious and seemingly separate issues of the day.

When people are contacted by a party such as the GOP, they should come away from those communications and discussions with a better understanding of the political landscape, and how best to navigate it, because of the principles that party upholds, not be more confused and concerned than they were before, and with even less understanding of what the party's, and even their own principles, might be!

A political Party has got to have its principles clearly defined and understood before ever allowing or encouraging others to align themselves with it - that cannot be in dispute - change those principles and it doesn't just change the party, it creates a new party. What can be in dispute, is how to apply those principles. Those could very well be contentious issues which many members might never come to agreement over, but there should be no disagreement about what the principles they are arguing over are! I'd thought, perhaps naively, that already central to the GOP's principles, were such items as the rule of constitutional law, oriented towards an ever smaller and more limited govt, one of defined powers, whose primary purpose was to uphold and defend our individual rights, property and lives, with a corresponding emphasis on fiscal responsibility. All of which follows from the simple statement of principle its founding members resolved at its inception, back in 1854:
"That we accept this issue [freedom or slavery], forced upon us by the slave power, and in the defense of freedom will cooperate and be known as Republicans."
I realize of course that few, very few, politicians give much more than lip service to those principles today, but I didn't think that their existence and centrality to the party was in question, let alone that form letters were being used to come up with more popular replacements for them. Asking potential voters:
"Why Are You A Republican? Tell Us Which Principles Are Most Important To You"
, which is the same thing as saying:
"Welcome to our Party, would you tell us who we are and what we believe?"
, and it does nothing to bring voters any clarity, it does nothing to show how their concerns are best addressed by their party's fundamental principles, and worse, it obscures the idea that they ever had any principles to begin with. Such a strategy is, sad to say, an inherently modernist one, a pragmatic and Public Relations oriented attempt to gauge which positions will suck in more voter$ and will give the party the most bang for their campaign buck$, and it is NOT a position that's taken to advance the principles the party exists for, but to advance the interests of the party itself.

Worse still, that's not the worst possible way of taking their 'voter outreach', the view that this fundraising email was a cynical attempt to plot political strategy, is the most charitable way of looking at it. The worst possible scenario is that the GOP leadership really does not see any difference between positions and principles, that they really do have no clue how its own forgotten principles might have helped bring clarity and understanding to the contentions issues of our day, and that instead all that they are about is grabbing at popularity and power for power's sake.

Is there a place for the GOP polling its members to see which issues they'd most like to see on ballots? Sure there is, but there is a difference between gauging public support for ballot issues and defining (re-defining?) the party's principles, and if they can't tell the difference between the two, well, then... 'turn out the lights, the party's over...'.

A few good questions
Now on to the questions Frank raised. He first asks:
"If ours is a Republic and each representative is elected to mediate for the people, how does the rep know what her/his electorate wants?"
I've got to come at this from behind first. Being that we are a constitutional representative republic, not a democracy, a representative doesn't simply mediate or relay the concerns of the people, into legislative votes - they are Representatives, not proxies. Part of their job is to ensure that their constituents preferences don't exceed the scope of the of their office, or violate their own principles. A representative's informed judgment can be more important than the sentiments of a majority of their electorate. For that reason alone, discovering the principles of a candidate for office,is job #1 of every voter. That being said, having a clear conception of the particular values and concerns, likes & dislikes of their constituents is important for a representative, and it is perfectly valid for a candidate or office holder to conduct polls, send out form letters to their constituents, etc., in order to get a sense of their positions on particular issues.

The now much maligned Todd Akin, used to conduct 'telephone town halls', where with the help of an automated phone dialer, he'd conduct regular conference calls in the evenings which brought several hundred people on the line together, listening to questions and comments taken from others on the call, as the rest listened to them, and heard his replies. I thought that was an excellent means of not only hearing from constituents, but of helping them hear back from him and his take on the wider implications of particular issues.

It seemed as if every few months we'd get a call that plugged us into those conference calls. I haven't had one yet from our current representative.

Frank's next question is:
"If the rep feels differently than the people being represented, should said rep vote and act according to their own values or according to the values of the people?"
As I hinted at above, that's the judgment call a Rep needs to make, which, again, is why it is so important for voters to get a sense of a candidates principles, character and judgment. One of the first questions we voters should have (and if the candidate didn't make it clear to begin with, why didn't they?), is are there areas of the constitution (or the equivalent for the particular state, county, city, township, etc., office they're running for) which they know themselves to have difficulty or even disagreement with. For instance, if I were running for office, I'd have to make clear that, although they are the law of the land and I'd have to abide and uphold them, I'd like very much like to see the 16th & 17th Amendments to the constitution repealed, and if the opportunity arose, I'd work like heck to help bring that about.

I'd also have to state that I'd like to see an Amendment that gave states back a seat at the table of constitutional power (which both of those amendments have contributed to eroding), as in a State's Repeal Amendment such as 'Madison's Lost Amendment'. That sort of information is the type that candidates should communicate to voters in order to give them a fair estimation of their own fundamental principles.

And then there are the more general principles a candidate holds to - are they of a mind that laws which do not help to clarify and uphold Rights, have little or no business being proposed, let alone passed? Or are they of a mind that Govt should be doing things to 'improve our lives'? And if so, there'd follow a whole host of further questions which would need to be asked - if you were still listening to them that is. Personally, I wouldn't be. "Next!".

And then there are operational and administrative concerns, does the candidate believe that all such laws should be uniform and centralized at the highest levels of govt so as to be applied alike to all peoples in every walk of life, or do they favor a more subsidiarity sort of approach, where the administering of laws should be decentralized and handled at the lowest effective level of govt possible, so as to more closely reflect the outlooks of the people represented in that area? And does their view of this vary based upon the law in question? Do they see the issue as a matter of Principles or Particulars?

For instance, does whether the bill is more law, regulation or policy, affect their decision? IOW, if the issue concerns a matter of community preference - 'Should parks be lighted and open till midnight, or closed up by 9:00 p.m.', etc, I'd think that'd be one where a representative should let the prevailing sense of the electorate determine your vote, whether you as their representative liked it or not. On the other hand, if it were a question of serious principle, such as 'does govt have the right to tell private businesses whether or not they can have customers smoking in their establishments' - that's a very serious property rights issue, and a Representative should vote against it no matter what the prevailing sense of the electorate was, and I'd also consider that an important topic for discussion with the electorate to help them understand what their position was and why.

And lastly, it does, and should, come down to the elected officials better judgement - that is what they are elected to exercise, they are not elected as proxies for majority rule - the Representatives are supposed to understand the issues and the laws in question at least as well as anyone else, and hopefully much better - THAT is their job. Important note: it is also their job to understand that they need to listen to what their constituents think, even when diametrically opposed, and to be always re-evaluating their own positions in light of their arguments, even if they still arrive at the same conclusion, you never know who might reveal what you'd not considered before.
Finally, Frank noted:
"The only reason I ever voted for anyone is because they best represented my values. With the exception of one Democrat in the 80's, I voted Republican just because they were the closest. After the election of '12, after seeing what the Republicans did, I will not even vote for THEM."
Which is understandable, but ... that depends. I'd rather have a principled person, whose principles don't deeply conflict with mine, but whose values I don't agree with, than a person whose principles concerning our rights and laws seem poorly understood, but whose values and preferences seem similar to mine. If someone was a staunch defender of the Constitution and clearly understood the importance of our first ten amendments to it, they could be a playboy, and I'd take them in a heartbeat over the otherwise outstanding & upstanding person who reflected conservative values... but who had little or no grasp of the fundamental rights our constitution depends upon. Dr. Ben Carson comes to mind. An otherwise outstanding person, but in expressing his opinion that the 2nd Amendment should be regulated in the same manner as drivers licenses, he makes clear that he has a dangerously poor understanding of Individual Rights, Law, and Govt's relation to them, and I would not want him in a critical office defending the constitution and my rights under it.

But more on that in another post.


Anonymous said...

The Culture comes First.
An American is honest, industrious, and virtuous. An American also accepts the conditions resulting from true Freedom and economic liberty; material inequality and risk. These are the Cultural imperatives that define the qualifications to be one of Us. They are neither debatable nor negotiable. An American is Not a predator, a pervert, or a willfully non productive parasite. These behaviors have social costs that we are compelled to pay in treasury, property, and sometimes blood. And those who engage in those behaviors which are demonstrably harmful should be dealt with in kind. Predators must be eliminated and the remainder of those whose habits are detrimental to the quality of life of any other in terms of physical and or material sufferance ought to be banished.
Our standard of living is half what it should be. And the indolent, ignorant, incompetent, infantile slugs who elect our enemies to plunder Our earnings, impede our advancement, and sometimes ruin our lives enjoy doing it in the belief that We owe them.
End rant

Anonymous said...

I'm responding to what 'Anonymous' posted.

I'll agree that Americans, as a culture, are honest. That is easily definable.

You addressed the non-industrious. Though there is a difference between a predator and scavenger.

But the virtuous part has become relative. This is where the culture has changed dramatically in the past 45 years. What is the standard of virtue. It isn't what it was when I was young and it seems, to me, to be calling the values that were considered virtuous as non-virtuous.

Van Harvey said...

If the culture came first, there'd be no need to worry about it.

But it doesn't.

Culture is a result, not a cause - what it results from, is the real issue.

Ideas come first, actions come second, and a culture is formed from them, and it forms on two levels, one secondary transitory form, and a deeper primary sense that keeps the secondary one from floating too far astray. Their interplay influences and guides the deeper development of the culture's central ideas, drives new discoveries and actions... and round and round it goes as progress, real Progress, is made. America, the ideas of what is right and true, of Liberty that results from individual rights under law - that was the high point of Progress to date, the only progress that really matters.

Culture is vital, but mistake it for being only the familiar habits and traditions, and you tie yourself to the transitory secondary form of culture, you'll doom society to death by change that never stops.

The second level, the more visible but shallower form, is made up of the familiar habits and activities of the people living within that culture at that time. Americans of the last 50 or so years of the 20th century, might sum that second sense up as: Baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. But American's from 50 years prior to that, and 50 years before that, and so on, would be unfamiliar with the comforting habits and familiarizes of the other.

That second level is what most people think of, but which is most fleeting and changeable, but as long as it remains rooted to the deeper level and the ideas driving it, the differences between different times are only skin deep.

Our secondary culture has been actively driven against our primary culture and the ideas underlying it, for more than a century, and if we are successfully kept from tying them together... something else will sink in.

That primary sense of culture results from what is at the heart of what has made Western Culture Western, and it hasn't died, even as the various cultures of the last three thousand years have passed away. That heart doesn't die, it is, broadly put, the pursuit of the Good, the Beautiful and the True, and it persists. What has persisted down to us from our upstream tributaries - Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian, Anglo-Saxon - is what is permanent to us, and is still alive in us, because it is Real and True and permanent.

When we hold to that connection, we make real Progress. When we pit one against the other, seek after what we'd prefer to be 'true', rather than what is True (or more indelicately put: Lies), we regress. We've been actively pursuing regress here for well over a century, and it certainly shows.

So long as we recognize the tie to our primary culture and the heart of it, remember it, its stories and religious sense, abide by what is true, then whatever gyrations the secondary culture goes through, it will right itself.

But it is up to us. And as Greece, and Rome, found, and we are now beginning to find... at some point there is a reset, and it's never pretty.

Van Harvey said...

And of course, those Ideas driving it all, they can only lead to what is Good, Beautiful and True, if they are oriented to what is real and true.

Existence comes first. If you allow yourself to overlook that, if you buy into "I think, therefore I am", you are pursuing Regress.

Hello modernity....