Shortly before his announcement that he will not seek the Republican nomination for president, Mike Huckabee made a remark that offers a telling insight into the understanding of politics that characterizes the politicians produced by the current twin-party sham. “People speak of Reagan as if he was absolutely steadfast,” he said. “He was in his convictions. But you have to govern in a way that is different than you can campaign.”
The remark, and the fact that Mike Huckabee is the one who made it, confirm an insidious truth about the cynical New Deal political paradigm that structures the activities of both the Democratic and Republican parties. Huckabee is supposed to be the GOP political leader who represents the core principles of the GOP’s moral constituency. This constituency includes the self-consciously Christian conservatives committed to restoring respect for the self-evident truths articulated in the American Declaration of Independence, including the idea that lawful governments are instituted to secure unalienable rights conferred upon human beings by the Creator God.
Thanks to this principle, legitimate government must take account of what the Creator has determined to be right for human beings. Therefore, someone in a position of government authority cannot ignore the issues of right and wrong, issues that involve laws or policies that directly affect the moral responsibilities from which all individuals derive the claim to their unalienable rights. This is the common-sense reason for the priority moral conservatives give to issues such as abortion and respect for the God-endowed rights of the natural family.
If in fact it were true that Gov. Huckabee represents this moral constituency, then when he says that “you have to govern in a way that is different than you can campaign” he would be alluding to the notion that these days a candidate cannot garner enough votes to win a general election by emphasizing the primacy of moral considerations. Or he might be saying that you cannot, once elected, deal with the practical requirements of government without sacrificing that priority, whatever you may have said to get the support of your moral constituents. One way or the other, the implication of his remark is that campaigning politicians cannot truthfully represent what they will do once elected to office. In order to build electoral majorities, they must deceive someone. To do so successfully they use generalities that smack of principle, combined with alluring policy fabrications that cater cynically to selfish interests. Both serve to mask the fact that they are actually determined to do whatever they must to “govern” once they are in office.
Of course, for those who adhere to the moral principles of the American founding, this begs a critical question. If, to be legitimate, government must be constrained by respect for unalienable right, what does it mean to “govern” without regard for this constraint? Doesn’t such a way of governing defeat the purpose for which (according to America’s founding principles) governments are instituted? Isn’t it therefore illegitimate, unlawful government? Huckabee purports to represent moral constituents. These are voters who agree with the American founders that, except in the most extreme and exceptional circumstances, it is not acceptable for a government to use power in this way. How can they trust that he, or other politicians, will respect this agreement when they deliberately build vote-getting coalitions by means that ignore it?
Once built, the vote-getting coalition becomes de facto a constraint upon the officeholder’s freedom of action. “Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill,” as Shakespeare wrote. The coalition built by manipulative deception must be maintained by manipulative deception, so that whether in office or campaigning for it, deception becomes the politician’s real persona, his or her identity and way of life. But this means that instead of a government based on respect for self-evident truths, people get a government based on self-perpetuating lies, deceptions that must be elaborated and maintained every day and in every area of policy, or else the politician will lose the vehicle that carries him into office.
By accepting that this politics of endemic deception is simply a practical necessity, Mike Huckabee may claim to be doing no more than pragmatism requires. But that’s the problem with such pragmatism. It produces politicians without principle, obsessed for the most part with getting and keeping power. Despite what they say to their moral constituents, they in fact have little or no interest in making sure that God-ordained right is respected in the exercise of that power. Is there no way to secure God-ordained right, while still satisfying the practical requirements of government? When they devised our Constitution, America’s founders offered a clue to the answer. They endeavored to build a vehicle for government that, to operate as intended, required that officials respect the right principles that define the just powers of government.
The cynical New Deal approach to politics abandons this intention. It requires that politicians build their identities on lies that serve to sustain their coalitions of power. But in order to remain free, Americans must maintain the political union that respects the self-evident truth that makes them so. This suggests that people have to devise vehicles for choosing their elected officials that respect the understanding of right that should guide and constrain those officials once elected to office. The goal of this effort could very well be stated as the antithesis of Mike Huckabee’s pitiful surrender to the corrupt New Deal mentality. “You have to campaign for power on the same basis that will govern your use of power.” Instead of letting politicians deceptively reinvent themselves to convince folks that they represent whatever the campaign consultants say they’re looking for, the people themselves should use true principles of self-government to discern which leaders will faithfully represent what those principles require.