Victory in First Principles

Voters are looking for change, but will they find hope in Republicans? Despite the good news of Democratic implosion presenting the real opportunity for a 1994-style Republican takeover of Congress, there is no enthusiasm or coherence coming from the top of the party.  

In a startling January 4, 2010 interview with Sean Hannity, RNC Chairman Michael Steele was not too optimistic about Republicans reclaiming the House in 2010. When asked if he thought Republicans could take back the House, Steele's transparency on his party's prospects was revealing: "Not this year." He shortly went on to add that "the question we need to ask ourselves is, if we do [take the House], are we ready?"  

Steele seems to point to a crisis in the party, saying, "That's what has gotten us into trouble, when we walked away from principle. Our platform is one of the best political documents that's been written in the last twenty-five years, honest [injun] on that. It speaks to some core principles, conservative principles on value of family, faith, life, economics. Those principles don't change." 

We might ask what those eternal principles are to which Chairman Steele is referring. In a speech delivered last May, he seems to be speaking of the timeless truths of liberty and equality in the Declaration of Independence, yet he assured us just moments before in the same speech that "[t]he Republican Party is again going to emerge as the party of new ideas."  

There is more than a hint of confusion in his remarks. Will Republicans be the party of new ideas, or will Republicans return to the principles of liberty and equality in the Declaration upon which our republic and the Republican Party were founded? If Republicans are to rally to victory in 2010, it will be only by making this distinction clear: whether the party will return to its and the Republic's first principles, or whether it will conjure up some new, faddish ideas.

When speaking with Sean Hannity, Steele made reference to the party platform. I think there is a bit of exaggeration in his claim that it is one of the best political documents of the past twenty-five years, but we cannot blame him for trying. The 2008 Republican Platform is 67 pages of lofty ideals, drippy slogans, and appeals to particular interests that leave an interested reader wondering what the purpose of such mumbo-jumbo ultimately is. In this regard, the 2008 Platform is not much different from most political speeches in that the document was written predominantly as a product for media consumption and only accidentally as a statement of party principle and position. 

The last section of the 2008 Platform is called "Preserving our Values." This section is replete with subheadings consisting of participial phrases: "Upholding the Constitutional Right to Keep and Bear Arms," "Ensuring Equal Treatment for All," "Preserving Americans' Property Rights," etc. These snappy phrases are the sort of simplistic gibberish that adorns most backdrops and podium placards whenever truly serious addresses today are given. (I do not mean to mislead -- the entire platform contains these cutesy phrases.) While the objectives behind these slogans are good as a matter of policy, we have no insight or guidance into the principles that inform these positions. This ambiguity on principle was not always the case. 

The Republican Party's first platform in 1856 stands in stark contrast to the latest iteration. It is a document that could be easily printed on two standard pages. The brevity of the 1856 Platform is not an indication of shallowness or deficiency, but of succinctness and clarity. The first of nine resolutions reads:

That the maintenance of the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence, and embodied in the Federal Constitution are essential to the preservation of our Republican institutions, and that the Federal Constitution, the rights of the States, and the union of the States, must and shall be preserved. 

If Chairman Steele is still looking for the principles his party walked away from, he need look no farther than these words from its first platform. In 1856, the Republican Party put the Declaration first in its resolutions because it was first in importance for the principles of liberty and union. What was first for Republicans in 1856 gets a passing mention by name on numbered page 17 of the 2008 Platform (page 24 of 67 total pages).   

The 1856 Platform was written with the issue of and growing controversy over slavery in mind. Particular violations of the rights of the people of Kansas are referenced to show how a firm understanding of the principles of the Declaration leads to solid judgment in 1856 and political success in 1860. What the 1856 Platform reveals in its foundation and examples is prudence -- the application of principles to particulars in the interest of justice.  

There is no need to, as Steele said to Hannity, "[talk] about how we get to those first principles and defin[e] them." That work on our first principles has already been done by our Founders.  

Our duty is not to rediscover what is already known. Ours is to take what we know is true and right to restore our republic, just as Abraham Lincoln did as the first Republican president. Republican victory will lie in the ability to articulate and act on how the particular issues and problems of 2010 are best solved by the eternal principles of 1776.
Voters are looking for change, but will they find hope in Republicans? Despite the good news of Democratic implosion presenting the real opportunity for a 1994-style Republican takeover of Congress, there is no enthusiasm or coherence coming from the top of the party.  

In a startling January 4, 2010 interview with Sean Hannity, RNC Chairman Michael Steele was not too optimistic about Republicans reclaiming the House in 2010. When asked if he thought Republicans could take back the House, Steele's transparency on his party's prospects was revealing: "Not this year." He shortly went on to add that "the question we need to ask ourselves is, if we do [take the House], are we ready?"  

Steele seems to point to a crisis in the party, saying, "That's what has gotten us into trouble, when we walked away from principle. Our platform is one of the best political documents that's been written in the last twenty-five years, honest [injun] on that. It speaks to some core principles, conservative principles on value of family, faith, life, economics. Those principles don't change." 

We might ask what those eternal principles are to which Chairman Steele is referring. In a speech delivered last May, he seems to be speaking of the timeless truths of liberty and equality in the Declaration of Independence, yet he assured us just moments before in the same speech that "[t]he Republican Party is again going to emerge as the party of new ideas."  

There is more than a hint of confusion in his remarks. Will Republicans be the party of new ideas, or will Republicans return to the principles of liberty and equality in the Declaration upon which our republic and the Republican Party were founded? If Republicans are to rally to victory in 2010, it will be only by making this distinction clear: whether the party will return to its and the Republic's first principles, or whether it will conjure up some new, faddish ideas.

When speaking with Sean Hannity, Steele made reference to the party platform. I think there is a bit of exaggeration in his claim that it is one of the best political documents of the past twenty-five years, but we cannot blame him for trying. The 2008 Republican Platform is 67 pages of lofty ideals, drippy slogans, and appeals to particular interests that leave an interested reader wondering what the purpose of such mumbo-jumbo ultimately is. In this regard, the 2008 Platform is not much different from most political speeches in that the document was written predominantly as a product for media consumption and only accidentally as a statement of party principle and position. 

The last section of the 2008 Platform is called "Preserving our Values." This section is replete with subheadings consisting of participial phrases: "Upholding the Constitutional Right to Keep and Bear Arms," "Ensuring Equal Treatment for All," "Preserving Americans' Property Rights," etc. These snappy phrases are the sort of simplistic gibberish that adorns most backdrops and podium placards whenever truly serious addresses today are given. (I do not mean to mislead -- the entire platform contains these cutesy phrases.) While the objectives behind these slogans are good as a matter of policy, we have no insight or guidance into the principles that inform these positions. This ambiguity on principle was not always the case. 

The Republican Party's first platform in 1856 stands in stark contrast to the latest iteration. It is a document that could be easily printed on two standard pages. The brevity of the 1856 Platform is not an indication of shallowness or deficiency, but of succinctness and clarity. The first of nine resolutions reads:

That the maintenance of the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence, and embodied in the Federal Constitution are essential to the preservation of our Republican institutions, and that the Federal Constitution, the rights of the States, and the union of the States, must and shall be preserved. 

If Chairman Steele is still looking for the principles his party walked away from, he need look no farther than these words from its first platform. In 1856, the Republican Party put the Declaration first in its resolutions because it was first in importance for the principles of liberty and union. What was first for Republicans in 1856 gets a passing mention by name on numbered page 17 of the 2008 Platform (page 24 of 67 total pages).   

The 1856 Platform was written with the issue of and growing controversy over slavery in mind. Particular violations of the rights of the people of Kansas are referenced to show how a firm understanding of the principles of the Declaration leads to solid judgment in 1856 and political success in 1860. What the 1856 Platform reveals in its foundation and examples is prudence -- the application of principles to particulars in the interest of justice.  

There is no need to, as Steele said to Hannity, "[talk] about how we get to those first principles and defin[e] them." That work on our first principles has already been done by our Founders.  

Our duty is not to rediscover what is already known. Ours is to take what we know is true and right to restore our republic, just as Abraham Lincoln did as the first Republican president. Republican victory will lie in the ability to articulate and act on how the particular issues and problems of 2010 are best solved by the eternal principles of 1776.

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