• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

The Republican presidential ticket leaves Philadelphia in the glow of
its accomplishment, at least for the moment, of the two goals that
convention planners had clearly made their top priorities –
demonstration to the country of the unity and the diversity of the “new”
Republican Party.

The parade of racial and cultural variety which constituted much of
the program seemed, by and large, well-intentioned and innocuous enough.
If such a demonstration was necessary in order to reassure those who
have thoughtlessly absorbed the slander that the Republican Party is
friendly
only to white males, then so be it. The Bush campaign seems genuinely
serious about taking its message to communities in which Republican
candidates have not been overly welcome, and this is a good thing –
depending, however, on what that message turns out to be.

Of course, the diversity of the convention was not quite inclusive
enough to extend to welcoming moral conservatives to the podium. Like
many other conservative leaders, I found that my own invitation to take
part in the convention must have gotten lost in the mail. But we’ll save
that story for another day.

Having executed with great skill and precision the scripted
convention theme of unified diversity, the Bush/Cheney ticket will now
turn its sights to the execution of a winning campaign based on the same
theme.

Bush strategists, and many Republicans in Philadelphia, were caught
up in an excited conviction that they have found the recipe for victory
in their suppression of images, speakers or themes associated with what
they consider the hard-edged rhetoric of past conventions. But they must
remember that
the unity which they think the convention projected is made much easier
by the hope of victory. Liberal and conservative Republicans are
inclined to compromise right now, even on issues that are important to
them, because they hope that George W. Bush has found the right mix of
positions on those issues, and the right manner of their presentation,
to lead to victory

This motivation for unity, however, has a finite life expectancy. Win
or lose, the day will come in just a few months when the exciting
prospect of electoral triumph and the satisfying defeat of the
Clinton-Gore legacy will no longer be before us. Perhaps this will be
because it became clear that
the Bush unity was too sentimental and squishy to sustain a political
coalition all the way to victory. Perhaps the moral conservatives who
were actually treated the way the press seems to expect Dick Cheney to
treat his daughter will grow tired of staying in the closet for the sake
of an election strategy. Or perhaps a real victory in November will
remove the fear of defeat that has kept the Bush coalition from
squabbling. However it happens, the time will come soon enough when the
hope of victory is not sufficient to maintain the unity of the forces
which have now arranged themselves in support of the Bush presidential
campaign. Then what will be done? I will presume to offer some advice.

Preserving the unity of the party beyond the hope of victory will
depend on whether George W. Bush seizes the moment to lay a right
foundation for the presidency he now believes he can attain. Only this
will make party unity — and eventually, national unity — endure.

The stage managers of the convention took great care to display
people of diverse races and cultures. This is indeed appropriate, for
the party should reflect the diversity of a people that has brought
together probably the most variegated population in the history of the
world. Not since the
glory days of the Roman Empire has one nation gathered its citizens from
every corner of the globe, from every nook and cranny of humanity, from
every tribe and culture and race and creed. We are right to marvel at
this profound richness and distinctiveness.

But we ought also to be searching our hearts and our minds all the
time to understand the great gift not of diversity as such, but of
unified diversity. For, after all, the United States is an island of
peace in a world where it is more common for differences in race and
ethnicity to lead to killing and bitter division. The kinds of diversity
celebrated at the Republican convention lead more frequently to conflict
than to peaceful communion. We need to ask ourselves why it doesn’t
happen here.

And if there is ever a time when we are likely to give the wrong
answer to that question, it is during a time of political struggle, when
we are distracted by the pursuit of victory over another party. Because
it is an interesting fact of that bitter and divided world that enemies
can unite in the pursuit of common victories in surprising ways.
Particularly in times of war or unrest, or whenever the desire for a
certain result is very strong, underlying differences that tend to
produce conflict may be suppressed or overlooked for a time as the more
immediate goal of victory is pursued. Later, in the bitter wake of
defeat or during the frenzied division of the spoils of victory, the
divisions that were put aside reassert themselves, and much even of the
best fruit of common endeavor can turn suddenly to dust.

The candidate of compassionate conservatism runs the risk of facing
such a moment later, if he settles now for a superficial unity, animated
only by the hope of victory. Today it may seem to some that the resolve
to love one another is sufficient to be the underlying premise of
Republican victory,
but it may turn out that the party had actually agreed only to love
victory.

The role of the statesman is to shape such imperfect occasions of
unity into the more enduring commitments that his people will in fact be
willing to live by for a long time. The recently concluded convention
showed little awareness of this role — little, but not none.
Struggling, no doubt, against the danger that the acceptance speech
would be an anticlimax, convention planners saved the best for last and
did indeed leave it to George W. Bush to come closest to articulating
the real basis of the Republican claim to be America’s party. To win in
November, to accomplish any real good for the country while in office,
and to deserve a place in history as a president who contributed to the
ongoing struggle to preserve the integrity of the great American mosaic,
he will have to do much better.

What does he need to say? He needs to assert openly that the unity of
the Republican Party, and its openness to all Americans, derives from
its heritage as the party that defended our fundamental national truth
– that the acknowledgment of the common humanity of all Americans is
not a generous and free political choice of the American people, but an
obligatory confession that our humanity was created and given its common
dignity by the will of Almighty God. The effort to substitute geniality
for this national creed will fail. So will any more sophisticated
alternative, any euphemism of “fairness” or “openness” or groundless but
friendly devotion to equality. There simply is no basis on which to lead
the nation to a more secure and just unity than the one Jefferson penned
at the beginning — that we are created equal and endowed by our Creator
with our rights, our dignity, and our worth.

That truth has attracted hearts from every corner of the world,
regardless of color and background, because in America the political
order proudly reflects our understanding that the finger of God has
inscribed the truth of moral dignity on every human heart. We see it
reflected in the hopes that we cherish for our children, in the courage
that we show in defense of our common goods and our community, and in
the energy with which we have built and strive still to improve our
material abundance. Perhaps most important of all is our tradition of
mutual respect between citizens — the assumed civility with which the
affairs of citizenship are conducted. Underlying it all is the
understanding — made transcendently explicit in our great founding
document — that the principle informing the treatment of citizens by
each other and by their government must not be the will of passion,
anger or resentment, but must instead be the will of God’s justice, of
God’s mercy, of God’s love.

When this truth informs our laws, our laws are just. When it informs
our actions, those actions are morally true and compassionate. Our
national resolve to pursue God’s justice is the reason that the
Republican Party has the capacity to unite itself and the people of the
country in the hope of cleansing the national political arena of the
stench of Bill Clinton.

If George W. Bush will move beyond his ability to represent civility
and decency and take the further step of explaining to the American
people the real foundation of these good things, he can mold a party
unity that will lead to victory at the polls, effective government
during his presidency, and a legacy of real national unity. If he
settles for encouraging the symptoms of national piety while never
explicitly supporting and defending the national faith that alone can
produce them, he will be left with an ad hoc coalition of the
sentimental, the ambitious and the opportunistic.

For there are some issues on which it is not enough to be
encouraging, suggestive, and rhetorically evocative. The issues that I
call Declaration issues raise the question of our devotion to national
acknowledgment of the source of our rights in ways that weed out the
cowardly and partial support, and leave room only for the bracing and
fully conscious choice between the way of principle and the … the
other path. The other path wears many masks, but it leads finally to the
war of all against all which is the political reality of much of the
world.

Of all issues before us, it is the pro-life cause that most truly
represents the challenge to achieve national unity by fidelity to our
common principles as a people and as a human race. Some mistake it as a
fight just for the innocent babes in the womb. But what is really at
stake is the very soul of our liberty and of our humanity. We come
together in this common cause not for any special interest of our own,
but through our willingness to sacrifice all that we are so that every
single human being can stand in the light of this world guaranteed the
dignity that is owed by us because it is given to each of us by God. The
unity that would result from national agreement about this issue would
be profound and lasting indeed. The unity that can be accomplished by a
politician who shrinks from it can never be either.

I hope it is obvious that, in parading various tones of skin on stage
in Philadelphia, Gov. Bush was doing the easy part. The hard part of
leadership remains — to explain to the American people the real reason
it matters to have everybody up there. If he can do it — if he
chooses to do it — he will build more than just a victory in November.
He will take the most important steps in restoring a national unity that
endures. He says he wants to use this time of prosperity to accomplish
great things. I hope, for America’s sake, that he tries.

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.