The Forgotten 11th Commandment
This election cycle has been very challenging for conservatives. Those of us on the political right would like to see the country move in the conservative direction. The citizens will be better off if it does. History proves this.
It would be very disappointing if the political gains made by the Tea Party movement did not continue. But there are forces within the conservative movement itself which could hinder progress. If the Republican candidates spend all of their time tearing each other down, they will be using their energy for counterproductive purposes.
The reasoned debate should be on the political, tactical, and substantive differences among the candidates and the plans they would implement as president. If the debate becomes about personal attacks, irrelevant historical events, or outright deceitful arguments, the candidates will just be aiding the Democrats, causing the potential defeat of the eventual nominee. President Reagan understood this. The Reagan 11th commandment -- "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican" -- was created after the observation of personal attacks which hurt the Republicans in previous elections.
Did this mean that no criticism was ever appropriate? That interpretation would be apt only if the commandment is viewed as a false dichotomy. Reagan also understood that reasonable disagreements or differentiation over policy would be appropriate. Most voters would agree.
Unfortunately, some who invoke Reagan and his legacy often don't practice what he preached. A political smear can consist of outright lies, logical flaws, exaggeration to the point of deception, or truthful facts invoked to imply something not factual. Evangelicals should be particularly wary of groups or candidates claiming to represent them but who in fact are using deceit to advance a case.
Criticism of criticism may seem hypocritical. But if the criticism is needed to clarify positions or to unlock the deceitful arguments of other candidates, then it is not only useful, but often necessary. The entire crop of current candidates have said things they regret. And they have also said things that they still stand by even if proven untrue.
Dissecting one example may help clarify the issue as well as illuminate the problem. Michele Bachmann would like to think of herself as the Reagan conservative in the race. But she has broken the 11th commandment so regularly as to approach breaking the 9th as well.
At a recent appearance on cable news, Bachmann made the following claims concerning Newt Gingrich:
That's what he's been doing for years is being an influence-peddler. I think the fact that he has been on the take for over a hundred million dollars to influence-peddle in Washington should tell people something about the fact that he is no outsider. And if you want to talk about a poster child for crony capitalism, it would be Newt Gingrich as the ultimate, consummate influence-peddler.
In the Fox News Iowa debate, Bachmann was asked, "What is your hard evidence that he engaged in influence-peddling?" She answered, "Well, it's the fact that we know that he cashed paychecks from Freddie Mac. That's the best evidence that you can have. You don't need to be within the technical definition of being a lobbyist to still be influence-peddling with senior Republicans in Washington, D.C. to get them to do your bidding, and the bidding was to keep this grandiose scam of Freddie Mac going."
Bachmann here is perpetrating a political smear of large proportions. Influence-peddling is illegal. And she should know that. First of all, she is repeating the untrue allegation over and over. Then she says that the fact that someone gets paid is evidence of wrongdoing. No it isn't. She claims that it is a fact when it is just her illogical conclusion. It is actually guilt by association. Gingrich was right to challenge Bachmann's "facts." She says you don't have to be within the "technical definition." Well, actually, you do. As a former congressman, Gingrich went out of his way not to lobby. And there is no evidence that he tried to influence anyone regarding Freddie Mac.
His activity was directed at Freddie Mac alone in this case. That's what consultants do. Maybe Bachmann has never experienced a consultant. Ignorance is no excuse here. You don't accuse someone of illegal behavior on fuzzy definitions, lack of evidence, and illogical reasoning. This is the kind of personal smear that we don't need in politics. You may not like that Gingrich was a consultant -- consulting being a perfectly capitalist enterprise which millions of people engage in. You may not like that he was involved with Freddie Mac. But his record is that he helped with housing reform legislation to improve the industry. This fact he pointed out in the debate as clarification. To say he influence-peddled to prop up Freddie Mac up is just not true. Does accusing a Republican candidate of illegal behavior without basis constitute breaking the 11th commandment? I think so. So would Reagan. This is not just an isolated case.
Bachmann also said at the Fox debate, "When he [Gingrich] was in Washington, D.C., he made an affirmative statement that he would not only support, but he would campaign for Republicans who are in support of the barbaric procedure known as partial-birth abortion." But that isn't what Gingrich said. He said he wasn't going to have political litmus tests and would let local voters decide who the Republican candidates would be. Then he would support Republicans to the left and to the right of him. To pull partial-birth abortion out and make that the issue defies logic. Gingrich passed partial-birth abortion laws twice. Clinton vetoed them. But Gingrich's record of achievement is clear. He is a strong abortion foe. What abortion legislation has Bachmann passed?
Bachmann has said a few other things that don't pass the logic test. She is trying to let her position on issues make up for her lack of accomplishment in government. Notice that I didn't say she isn't accomplished. That wouldn't be logical. But her accomplishments as a congressman are tiny compared to those of Gingrich. And yes, Bachmann has been misquoted and has had her arguments misconstrued as well, but not by Gingrich. If Bachmann becomes the nominee, Gingrich will support her. If Gingrich becomes the nominee, it will be no thanks to Bachmann.
Gingrich is trying to follow the 11th commandment. It would be a much better campaign if all of the candidates did as well. Otherwise they are aiding and abetting Obama.