Prudence or Purity? A Political Dilemma
If true, the post-mortem realization that the Republican Party's bid to oust Barack Obama was sealed by internal schism and faction is a bitter pill to swallow. With so much at stake, mortal necessity required that the party marshal its forces in order to take down a man whose admitted enmity to our American Constitutional framework threatens to subvert our unique political character. In light of the results of 2012, we now know that instead of amassing forces to our flag, we indeed saw a "Vanishing Act" of evangelicals along with our more libertarian brethren. In retrospect, both groups refused to close ranks and man the ladders needed to scale the Progressive stronghold.
It therefore becomes imperative for us to understand if the cleavages and stratifications that mark the Republican Big Tent strategy reveal a faded paradigm seeking realignment; or if the fault can be ascribed to the unreasonable expectations of the party's constituent parts. If the latter is true, how do we gather these horses back within the stable?
As in all things human, politics is more art than science. As humans are animated towards their perceptions of the political good, their expectations can be narrow and often singular. It requires a wise legislator to cull a political vision and command these wings into a viable coalition within republics. But even politicians of the caliber of Solon or Lycurgus are dependent upon human material that understand the nature of sacrifice and compromise that successful politics requires. Sometimes, factions within a coalition cease to view themselves as important component parts and instead seek preeminence: intractably refusing to enter into the political bargaining that must be made as preludes to victory. For the likes of some, compromise is either viewed as capitulation or treachery.
There is a diverse chasm between the expectations that motivate the temporal and the eternal view of existence. And for Christians, the dual allegiances that are accorded to both Caesar and Creator create an internal anxiety lest one offend the interests of either. Within the simmering cauldron of America's culture war, the single or dual issue voter often mistakes the forest for the trees and refuses to stand down -- lest he be judged lukewarm and found wanting at the Final Reckoning. Rather than brook compromise or settle for future gains through incremental victories, it is not uncommon for those True Believers to pronounce "a pox on both Houses," and withdraw into a metaphorical monastery awaiting the End of Days.
Political hubris results when a constituency's inflated self-image decides that they are "the tail that wags the dog." Therein, the opportunity for modern politics withers and common interests fall out with one another. And while there are certainly red lines that should not be surrendered, we cannot ignore the very prudent wisdom that one often must suffer the lesser of two evils when engaging in the political art. Those Americans more attuned to the call of revelation than the "smoke filled room" are often hard pressed to accept this raw human reality, and perhaps rightly so; but it is a cold chiseled reality nonetheless. By refusing to lower one's gaze below the horizon of the Heavenly City, we often condemn ourselves to languish at the Infernal Gates.
As a Christian believer, I will be the first to agree that a lack of political prudence among our flock kept a segment of evangelicals at home last November. Whether it was the specter of having an "LDS Heretic" in the White House or as a resignation of disgust at the temporal world (the whole world lieth in the Evil One) remains an open question. A not insignificant number of True Believers no doubt are so detached from the fetid nature of politics that they believe that the Fall of the West is inevitable and by doing nothing, one might well hasten the Lord's return. While I share their sentiments at times, I remind you that we are told to strengthen what yet remains by Christ Himself. We are to occupy and become salt to a perishing world. We cannot abandon things political to adversaries who have no such qualms in legislating for their own utopias. That being said, we should not forget that social conservatives had help in engineering the Republicans' folly of stealing defeat from the jaws of victory.
The libertarian moral neutrality that abandons many of conservatism's social issues -- fueled by the Randian Ethical Egoism that has captured the imaginations of Americans, has also split off a good segment of what we characterize as the provenance of the Republicans. For the philosophical libertarian, the political locus has ever been the individual while the state is a necessary evil -- with a bold emphasis on the evil. As it interprets society through a lens that effectively atomizes a whole into discrete parts, the libertarian weltanschauung by necessity injects a fundamental distortion that is ultimately corrosive of the body politic. Like all ultimately liberal philosophies that posit that "the right precedes the good," the ultimate purpose of the political community is either deemed unknowable or a furtive dream of the Classical Mind. As such, libertarianism lowers the moral/political bar and would seek the satisfaction of the individual as its relativist aim: a vision of man liberated from the question of political ends. Therefore, the libertarian ethos ultimately owes no secure allegiance to the spirit of the Founders' architectural construction of mutual duty and obligation that undergirds the moderate relationship between citizen and regime.
Having one foot within the Progressive camp and the other wedded to the Right's "lip service" to the austere state and sound economics, the Libertarian Party has far more to lose than to gain by standing down to that Socialist cancer metastasizing in Washington. That being said, Ron Paul, knowing the implications of an Obama redux, could not bring himself to concede a purity of principle and make common cause with Conservatives. Ideologically tethered to an arguably short-sighted isolationist foreign policy and a perhaps even more logical incoherence between social pathologies and the linkage to their very real moral and fiscal implications further down the road, the party took their marbles and went home. In refusing to concede orthodoxy, they have helped tie the mutton bib 'round the wolf's chin out of stubborn and futile principle. The libertarian segment of the Republican Party and the Libertarian party itself must understand where their interests ultimately lie as constitutionalism as we know it is in deep peril.
Despite a profusion of angry words that have been uttered in passion and haste, the Republican Party needs both of these Storied Houses intact as we once again begin to launch ourselves into the breach in arresting the forces who would erect the homogenous collective. Although there is a fundamental and some would say irreconcilable tension between both political visions, both represent what is ultimately appealing within the party. Individual freedom is of crowning importance within our Constitutional system, yet that liberty must be tempered and realized towards a meaningful end that rings true in the American soul. It will be the party's success or failure in promoting a central vision to reconcile that tension which ultimately determines if we are bound for ascendency or irrelevancy.
For both libertarians and religious social conservatives, an ideological purity that is inconsistent with the nature of political life has ensnared many noble minds. In the realm of the political, the Best Possible is all we can hope for and the Best Regime only resides in the idyllic City of Speech. Plato made this fundamental wisdom uniquely evident in revealing this relationship in The Republic and in The Laws: which are arguably the most earnest and introspective works ever to illuminate the nature of how men shall then live. The unwillingness to accept a half measure of a Good is an affliction that imperils the possibility of Political Life. Without sacrificing our core virtues, we must understand what Aristotle viewed as prudence -- the application of reasoned means in the service towards a higher end.
Glenn Fairman writes from Southern California and blogs as The Eloquent Professor at www.palookavillepost.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org