More than once in the past few months someone or other has lamented the barrages of criticism the GOP candidates have launched against one another. They have bandied about words and phrases like “cannibalism” and “circular firing squad,” admonishing the Presidential aspirants to concentrate their fire on Obama and stifle criticisms that hurt the GOP’s chances of victory.
This would be all well and good if the purpose of election campaigns is simply to win power at any cost. But what if the main purpose is to make sure voters who care about their country have what they need to make a choice that truly serves the common good? What if this is an especially appropriate goal in a presidential election? Once upon a time it was commonplace to remember the common-sense arguments made for free and unrestricted debate, as in this observation from “On Liberty” by the English reasoner John Stuart Mill:
“The beliefs which we have most warrant for, have no safeguard to rest on, but a standing invitation to prove them unfounded. If the challenge is not accepted, or is accepted and the attempt fails, we are far enough from certainty still; but we have done the best that the existing state of human reason admits of; we have neglected nothing that could give the truth a chance of reaching us: if the lists are kept open, we may hope that if there be a better truth, it will be found when the human mind is capable of receiving it.”
In this thinking we need only substitute the phrase “a true representative” for each reference to truth itself to see how Mill’s reasoning applies to participation and debate in the electoral context.
This perspective on the subject gives rise to the suspicion that the ostensibly goodnatured promoters of peace and mutual restraint in political debate may (intentionally or not) be doing a disservice to voters. Let’s say that fellow partisans agree to observe an unspoken agreement not to criticize one another, but to focus instead on those rascals in the other party. What becomes of the rascals in their own party whose similar deportment is thus obscured from the voters? Voted into office on account of blind partisanship, these rascals covertly bring to it the same deficiencies their party has loudly denounced. Voters who sought something better are fooled into perpetuating the deficiency they sought to remove, which, on account of their support or acquiescence, becomes even more damaging than it was before.
Perhaps voters whose foremost care is for their country are best advised to be less concerned about what candidates do to one another and most concerned about what each of them has done, is doing or proposes to do to the nation. It may be true that the shots they aim at one another harm the partisan interest they share. But what if, in their zeal to defeat one another, the brawl reveals them in stances that would otherwise be left obscure, stances that make it clear that, from one perspective or another, each of them has been firing shots aimed in the same general direction as the party all of them profess to oppose; and that those shots are likely to prove fatal to the character, security and liberty of the country as a whole.
From the perspective of the common good, the real problem isn’t that the GOP candidates have been criticizing one another. It’s what those criticisms have revealed. Ron Paul’s backers criticize Gingrich’s fondness for Alvin Toffler’s elitist rejection of the form of government – of, by and for the people (not the elites) – the Constitution requires. Forces backing Gingrich and Santorum warn against Congressman Paul’s isolationist, “blame America” rationale for neglecting threats from anti-American fundamentalists in the Islamic world. The Ron Paul enthusiasts inveigh against Gingrich’s complicity in the elitist rape of America’s income, credit and economic wherewithal.
Meanwhile, Santorum’s criticism of Romney makes clear the former governor’s duplicity on issues like abortion and gay marriage. Romney’s criticism of Santorum unveils the former senator’s record as a “big government” conservative, willing to go along to get along even when it involves spending for causes (like Planned Parenthood’s pro-abortion agenda) Santorum decries as fatal to the character of the American people. Santorum notes that Romney was for Obama’s approach to health care before he was against it. Romney points out that Santorum supported Romney’s bid for the presidency before he was against it, though he was well aware of that the objectionable characteristics of Romneycare fulfilled Obama’s worst desires, including a provision for public funding of abortions in Massachusetts. And so it goes.
Where voter information is concerned, it appears that Mill was right. In a verbal free for all, “truth will out” (Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice,” Act II, Scene 2). The GOP’s self-serving leaders and partisan media bobbleheads (heads bobbing yes to whatever follows the party line) may blather on about how all this allegedly defamatory backbiting only hurts the party’s chances next November. But against the charge of defamation, truth is a defense. Before voters give in to the prodding of these elitist partisans, they need carefully to consider the evidence that suggests that much of what these warring camps are saying about one another is true.
In the conclusion of this article as posted at my blog, I outline the winning counterattack the GOP’s self-defeating identity crisis offers to Obama’s forces, no matter whom the Republicans nominate. I argue that their vulnerability is not a matter of this or that personality. It exists because of the impression made by their party’s pre-emptive capitulations; its unwarranted retreats; its outright collaboration with Obama’s anti-constitutional expansion of government dominance. This saps credibility from the notion that there is any starkly fateful difference between GOP Republicans and Obama-faction Democrats. They are opposite wings of the same elitist faction, flapping in unison as socialism takes flight, after gorging on the faith and good credit of the American people.