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I have argued that the 80/20 approach to candidate evaluation advocated by people like RNC Chairman Michael Steele defies logic and common sense. Put simply, it neglects the fact that some issues are more important to the survival of the nation and its liberty than others. The 80/20 approach tacitly adopts the unprincipled assumption that there are no established standards of judgment that have to be respected. This assumption is of course in line with the moral relativism that is characteristic of our time, especially among a lot of our educated elite.

In place of this flawed approach, I suggest something more consistent with the principled logic on which the United States was founded. That logic begins from the assumption that to be legitimate all governments must respect certain requirements of right, requirements built into human nature that therefore reflect the sovereign will of the Creator. People striving to act in accordance with those requirements are in the right and therefore literally have the right to be free from objection, interference or harm from others as they pursue their goal. This is the substance of the unalienable rights alluded to in the American Declaration of Independence, which sees the aim of securing these rights as the purpose for which governments are instituted. Because as individuals all have an equal claim to possess these rights, no one can rightly claim precedence over them. Therefore, neither superior force nor other incidental attributes give anyone a natural claim to rule others. The lawful exercise of government power derives only from an agreement amongst individuals as to the delegation of such power, a delegation necessarily limited by the terms of the agreement and its respect for the claim of rights that make such agreement (consent) the sine qua non of governmental legitimacy.

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The legitimacy of the constitutional government of the United States is explicitly based on such an agreement. It was arrived at in principle when the original states of the Union articulated in common the principles of right that justified their assertion of independence from Great Britain. It was then more full articulated in the form of the United States government, ordained and established by the unanimous consent of the people of the United States when they ratified the U.S. Constitution. The preservation of this form of government is the sworn duty of every official at every level of government in the United States. To carry out this duty the judgments and actions of every such official must be consistent with the terms of the agreement and with respect for the claim of rights that make it the sine qua non of governmental legitimacy. This logically gives rise to the first standard by which every official and every candidate for office must be judged, to wit, that in all their actions and all the positions they take or advocate they strive to preserve the Constitution of the United States and respect the claim of equal unalienable rights on which the lawfulness of its governmental powers depends.

Under a form of government that derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed (on account of their claim to equal unalienable rights) the people are the ultimate repository of sovereign power. Laws are made and carried out by their ministers or representatives, acting in their name and on their behalf. This logically gives rise to the second standard by which every official and every candidate for office must be judged, to wit, that in all their actions and all the positions they take or advocate they acknowledge and seek to preserve the sovereignty of the people of the United States.

But the people have the right claim to such sovereign power because they are all “created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” This is the principle of lawfulness. The authority of the people thus depends on the existence and authority of the Creator, God. This logically gives rise to the third standard by which every official and every candidate for office must be judge, to wit, that in all their actions and all the positions they take or advocate they do nothing that denies the existence and authority of the Creator, God.

Whether or not any given candidate measures up to these fundamental requirements will always be a matter of judgment. Such judgment must take account of the particular facts and circumstances in light of which it must be made. But clear neglect of the requirements is often easy to ascertain, whatever the facts and circumstances of the case. Therefore, as a general guide, it is probably more useful to encapsulate the indicators of egregious neglect or violation of the standards than to attempt to abridge the many nuances and degrees of imperfection in the observance of them. Nations must live with imperfection. But they cannot live with laws, policies and actions that neglect or violate the fundamental requirements of their existence. These constitute fatal flaws. Even if they appear in only one area of policy they are like drugs or poisons that prey upon a vital organ or function of the body. Candidates clearly committed to even one instance of such neglect or violation cannot be worthy of support, because their political success threatens the survival of the polity.

Since there are three areas of vital principle, there are three headings under which the neglect or violation of principle gives rise to fatal flaws: preserving the U.S. Constitution; preserving the sovereignty of the people; and preserving the principle of legitimacy that substantiates the people’s right to self-government. Because it is possible to neglect or violate vital principle in the handling of any given issue, the concern for principle cuts across all the issues. Once we clearly understand this we realize that those who analyze candidates only in terms of their stands on “the issues” are (consciously or not) masking the division on principle that determines the fate of liberty.

In the next posting on my blog, “Introduction to the Principled Voters Guide,” I will discuss more specifically the violations of principle now sadly rampant under each of the three headings. In the process we will see how “the issues” sort themselves out in terms of principle and how their stands on the issues divide candidates into two major parties: those who respect the vital prerequisites of liberty, and those who do not.

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