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Republicans preparing to gather in Philadelphia next week for the party’s
national convention have electoral success very much on their mind. The
theme seems to be that political principle is all very well, and can even be
a good thing — in its place. There will no doubt even be a speaking slot
or two reserved at the convention for appropriately restrained
representatives of the view that being right is both more important than and
essential to winning elections. But in ways large and small the impression
is given, reinforced, and confirmed that the convention planners, and the
Bush campaign strategists, are resolved to pull the fangs of what they like
to call “ideology.” The goal seems to be the cultivation of a thoroughly
tame moral conservatism, one that can safely be permitted to pretend that it
is still dominant in the party.

Like the impotent Roman Senate in the age of the absolute power of the
emperor, some appearance of moral conservative influence will remain for a
while. But the strategists of smiley-face Republican pragmatism do not
intend to share power. They have no intention of “risking” to Al Gore the
undecided voters presumed to occupy an anti-ideological middle, merely to
preserve the purity of the party’s conscience. They have their eyes set on
success at the ballot box, whatever the cost. Presenting principles or
standards of what “success” would mean in governance is not on the program.

The future of the Republican Party is entirely dependent upon what
happens at the convention. If the party stays true to itself and its
principles with a platform that is solidly conservative across the board and
a ticket that retains conservative commitments, especially on the moral
issues, then we can move forward to try to make the most of things in the
fall. If the convention is dominated by back room calculations that leave
us with either a platform or a ticket that doesn’t reflect the moral truths
that are essential to the preservation of liberty, the party will be
deservedly torn apart.

Delegates to the convention, and the many grass-roots Republicans who will
also be in town, need to decide what role they will play in the drama that
will unfold in Philadelphia. Conventions can be manipulated in many ways,
but if the party membership refuses to be manipulated, the convention will
reflect the heart of the party and the worst result can be avoided.

At the convention we will discover whether the Republican Party still has
the character it takes to choose the right path, instead of the apparently
expedient path. There is only one thing that the power brokers will be
unable to overcome in their desire to saddle us with a pro-abortion running
mate, or a pro-abortion platform — thousands of delegates and activists who
understand that electoral success is ultimately meaningless except in the
service of the truth. I believe that even with the manipulation of
expectations by big money, party bosses, and big media, the delegates coming
to Philadelphia will be overwhelmingly people who understand the real
components of human — and therefore, of political — success. The
convention hall will be filled for the most part with men and women who know
that success is not marked just by constant applause and popularity, but by
a constant sense that there are convictions that matter, truths that command
allegiance, and a substance to life that goes beyond what we ordinarily
think of as success.

The survival of American liberty depends on the survival of a political
party dedicated to the truth in something like the way that the men who
gathered in Philadelphia two centuries earlier were dedicated to it. We
cannot fend off the dry rot of licentious indulgence without a party that
openly and unashamedly carries the banner for doing what is right even when
it doesn’t feel good or promise immediate gratification.

Political parties are not people, of course, and do not strictly speaking
have “character.” Character is the accumulated confidence that individual
men and women acquire from years of doing the right thing, over and over
again, even when they don’t feel like it. People with character understand
that their lives are filled with events and choices that are significant,
above all, not because of the short term success or failure of the search
for money or position, but because the choices we make are actually making
us into one kind of person, or another. Our life of choices is a life-long
labor to make ourselves into a person who has begun to respond adequately to
the awesome gift we received from God when He made us in His image.

A man of character lives in the hope that there will be deeds in his life
when the line between right and wrong was presented to him and he decided to
do, at whatever cost, just what he thought was right. Many times such
choices do not concern matters crucial in themselves. But the morally awake
man understands that on those moments of choice, whenever and however often
they come, depends the entire question of his ultimate worth in his own
eyes. He anticipates his own latter days, when the particular concerns of
the passing days of his life have moved beyond memory, and he is left alone
with the cumulative fact of how well he measured up to the standards that do
not fade. A nation of character is filled with citizens who gradually build
lives based on the living awareness that their deeds are judged by eyes of
unchanging truth, by a will that is the real measure of what is right, and
therefore of what is good.

A people that can stand up to that test is very unlikely to meet with any
serious disappointments, and can have a constant hope of real success even
in this life. And a political party that has the wisdom or good fortune to
draw on such a people for its membership can hope to be truly a party of
character, and of real success.

Eyes blinded by the sunshine of our material success, Republican elites
forget these perennial truths, and are tempted to wander off toward the
mirage of the cheap victory. The temptation grows to seek electoral success
through the quick fix of capitulation to our morally weaker brethren. This
strategy suits the power brokers and big money interests just fine — they
are equally blind to the beauty and the permanence of real character. We
have reached the point where few of those in the halls of so-called power
have any real sense of the awesome force that is available to them if they
would only consent to join, perhaps even to lead, the patient march toward
character that the common people of America have trod so long and so well.

I believe that the delegates to the Republican convention have what may
be our last chance for a long time — possibly forever — to turn the
attention of America away from the temptations of victory at any price, and
of a politics wholly devoted to the refinements of Clintonesque deceit and
posturing. GOP executives are determined to conduct not a real convention,
but a spectacle in which character plays no definitive role. There are to
be no hard choices, no challenges to mind or heart, no awkward insistence on
distinguishing between the easy and the good. Part of the script may well
include throwing just enough bones to the pro-life majority of the delegates
that they will be reluctant to “spoil the party” by asking hard questions.

What we can be sure of is the official message will claim that victory is
more important than principle, and that electoral success is more important
than the character of the party. Even if the running mate is nominally
pro-life, and the platform retains its pro-life plank, the GOP leadership
intends to have made it very clear that these things are not the result of
the choice of a party firmly resolved to do the right thing for its own
sake. They are tactical necessities, to which the nominee need be neither
firmly attached nor firmly opposed, and because it has not been openly
rejected, the pro-life community is expected to be grateful enough at least
to continue working toward what really matters, which is winning at the
ballot box in November.

The party can struggle on with a pro-life running mate and a pro-life
plank. But if these things are preserved in a way that does not forcefully
repudiate the impression that they are actually negotiable, and next time
might be given up, then the real battle will have been lost. The delegates
in Philadelphia must not sell their souls, but show their character. They
must insist that the point be made that the Republican party is pro-life,
its platform is pro-life, and its ticket must be pro-life, not because some
agreement was reached in Philadelphia or because victory seems more likely
that way, and certainly not as a boon from the congenial and compassionate
nominee.

The delegates’ duty is to surprise the back room gang with a
demonstration of character that does not serve a GOP strategy of
fool-the-voter. It must be made clear to Bush throughout the convention
that despite his facile rhetoric of the possibility of compromise on the
moral heart of the party, he has no such option. The Republican Party must
remain a party of character. It will do so if the men and women of
character who assemble in Philadelphia show their supposed leaders how
grown-ups conduct their affairs — by doing the right thing, because it is
the right thing, and trusting confidently in God to reward the right in His
own good time.

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