Campaigns Are Not Only About Issues
Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 3:25PM
John Prothro

 

-The Editors

 

A common rant of the political class is that campaigns should be “about issues”.  We disagree.  Campaigns should be about philosophy.  Whereas circumstances change; principles do not.  The core of a person matters much more than the position he or she takes on a given issue.  How one views a question of policy--what shapes one’s opinion--should underline our consideration of a candidate. 

As Jonah Goldberg has pointed out, debates in this country have succumbed to wonkery.  “What would you do,” the moderator asks, “about the growing number of uninsured in our country?”  We are then subjected to three-point proposals, a budgeting timeline, and if we’re lucky, an attack on the opponents plan-often in the form of “My opponent voted against 47 million dollars that would have gone to single mothers with dysentery and an itchy scalp.”  The opponent then defends his vote against women and children and proceeds to outline his or her alternate plan.

The dirty secret in campaigns is most grand plans end up dying in the grinding mill of congressional compromise.  It is better then to understand the political philosophy behind a proposal than to examine the proposal itself.  The majority of decisions a politician makes take place after the campaign.

Not that aspiring leaders should not also aspire to specific agendas.  All the better if they do.  Many leaders have accomplished their legislative goals that have left an indelible mark (or scar) on our country.

What we object to is the public’s or at least the media’s reluctance to consider the underlying assumptions of a politician's agenda.  We need to know why an agent of change believes a change to be right.  Has he or she been grounded in a philosophy pruned by history and political theory?  Can the politician use that philosophy to defend the proposed change?

And it’s not just the political players who ignore the philosophical underpinnings of campaigns.  Watch prominent media figures moderate a debate or interview a candidate and one will see a dearth of philosophical challenges.  Bill O’Reilly’s long awaited interview of Obama during the campaign is a good example.  At one point in the interview, O’Reilly noted that Obama’s ultra-progressive tax plan amounted to a redistribution of wealth, a basic tenet of socialist philosophy.  Obama rebuked O’Reilly by claiming government had the responsibility to provide the struggling masses certain needs.  If one has more money than needed, why not give “extra” money to the poor.  “What’s the big deal?”  Obama wondered.  And O’Reilly had little to say in retort.

It’s not enough to say “I support this or that program”.  The support or non-support of a program should only clue an audience to the candidate’s philosophy.  A candidate who supports school vouchers, for instance, can rightly be considered a candidate whose personal philosophy and understanding of free markets leads him or her to discredit the efficiency of the state.

The members of the current political class don’t understand the philosophy behind what they believe.  They base their decisions on polls and feelings, and we the people let them get away with it.  “Now is not the time for philosophical flexibility,” as Fred Thompson likes to say.  And he's right.  But to be grounded we must first root our understanding in the philosophy of the great thinkers of current and past generations.  Never has the importance of this mission been so great.  

 

 

 

Article originally appeared on LastingLiberty.com (http://lastingliberty.com/).
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