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In a story about Mitt Romney campaigning in New Hampshire, these words caught my eye: “It could be a mistake to bet against Romney’s ability to persuade hearts and minds on the campaign trail. Consider who South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, the gold standard of GOP candidates, endorsed in the 2008 GOP presidential primary: Mitt Romney.”

Mitt Romney is one of the politicians for whom the term RINO (Republican in name only) was invented. As the article suggests, many people believe that, even applying the definition of the term that includes an authentically pro-life stance, Sen. DeMint sports the best conservative credentials the GOP has to offer. Yet he endorsed Romney for president. The notion of a Jim DeMint RINO should find its only home next to that other showplace of gold standard conservatism, the Spearmint Rhino in Las Vegas. But apparently it lived in comfortable estate in the “conservative” mind of Sen. DeMint. I have to suspect that it’s a place Russell Kirk rarely visits, and even then only to debate U.S. policy toward Israel. As I read the article, I added the mental note: Consider who Texas Gov. Rick Perry supported in the 2008 presidential primary: Rudy Giuliani, an unabashed advocate of the oxymoronic “abortion rights” position. Consider Rick Santorum who, in Pennsylvania’s 2004 GOP primary, supported “abortion rights” advocate Arlen Specter for the U.S. Senate over Specter’s reputedly pro-life opponent.

I’m sure that some among you think that the point of my mental note is that, since all politicians make mistakes in judgment, it’s unfair to single out any one of them in particular? But that’s not what I was thinking. I was thinking that mistakes in judgment are inevitable when you agree to participate in a system that makes winning the only standard that matters. Mistakes in judgment are inevitable when you base the conduct of politics on an understanding of government that makes “getting things done” the only standard that matters. Mistakes in judgment are inevitable when you agree to be ruled by political priorities that make issues of money and material welfare the only priority that matters. It turns out that these unprincipled endorsements aren’t so much about the faults of this or that GOP politician as they are about the fact that the GOP embraces the same corrupt, materialistic, morally relativist understanding of politics now endemic among the Democrats.

For years weak-minded voters have been intimidated with the notion that it’s wrong to have a litmus test for candidates. They don’t seem to realize that the concept of a litmus test simply refers to the fact that you have standards for judgment that you will not deny. Of course, the judgments I am referring to are moral judgments, the ones that involve issues of right and wrong. When dealing with purely material things, judgment depends on the ever-changing condition of the matter at hand. In regard to such things, it makes no sense to pretend that this or that principle for judgment always applies.

I realize that these days many people (especially among those products of our institutions of higher learning eager to portray themselves as the “ruling class”) accept the notion that we live in a strictly material, quantifiable world. That’s supposedly the premise of the science that purports to be the only basis for objective knowledge. But the material world is always in flux. Material circumstances are ever-changing. So, they logically conclude, when the job calls for judgment, morality (that is to say, the notion that, on the whole, permanent standards exist for judging human choices) need not apply. It’s all relative.

I imagine such relativism works out pretty well for some folks. It always has. After all, moral relativism is simply the self-righteousness of the wicked masquerading as profound intellectual insight. History is chock full of evidence to suggest that people truly unfettered by moral scruples will stomp all over those who let conscience get in their way. That rigorous philosopher of modern science, Niccolo Machiavelli, certainly thought so, which accounts for the successful rehabilitation of his name during the century which thus far boasts human history’s high water mark for wholesale, life-slaughtering wickedness. (Machiavelli famously highlighted the tactic of inviting your opponents to dinner and, for the last course, fatally skewering them all. Twentieth century Machiavellians translated this masterful advice into concentration camps, gulags and hands-on university courses in applied defenestration, i.e., the practice of throwing political opponents out of highly placed windows that was, for example, reported to be popular with the Chinese Red Guards during China’s infamous Cultural Revolution.)

However, among politicians who claim to respect America’s founding principles (which on most days the ones who call themselves Republicans do) the evident practice of moral relativism suggests profound duplicity. America’s democratic, constitutional republic is based on the idea of God-given rights, which governments are instituted to secure. Where there is no right, there can be no rights. The security of rights therefore depends, in the first instance, on respect for the standard of justice that demands respect for rights. This assumes, in turn, respect for the authority by which the standard is established. The American Declaration of Independence clearly refers to this as the authority of God, expressed in the “laws of nature and of nature’s God.”

Put simply, human affairs are subject to the authority of God, so that those who act in accordance with His authority (do what is right) have the right to do so without fear of interference or depradation from others. This is the logic of the Declaration, the indispensable reasoning that justifies and encourages American liberty. I see no reason to accept as conservative (i.e., as one who seeks to conserve America’s liberty) any candidate or political leader who discards this logic in any important way. I state without reservation that adherence to the logic of the Declaration is the litmus test I apply as the first step in deciding whom I will support with my vote.

When it comes to politics, I think the election of the president of the United States is pretty important. I think politicians who claim to be conservative, but who disregard the logic of the Declaration when deciding who they will support for president, invalidate their claim. How can I trust them to follow through on their professed allegiance to America’s founding principles when I know that they routinely discard those principles as they make the most important personnel decision in American politics. Of course, that forces me to confront an inescapable question: Given their endorsement, which of the candidates presently touted in the GOP can really pass the test? Or, to put it to you differently, in 2008 which of the GOP candidates you think of as conservative refused to support John McCain?

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