Thursday, November 12, 2009

Principle v. political power

Kate Michelman and Frances Kissling have written an op ed in the NY Times today, Nov. 12, in which they say that the Democrats have traded women's rights for political power. To rephrase as bit, we might say that the Democrats have traded principle for political power.

Well, isn't that just peachy? Duh! Don't the ladies know that this how the system works and was meant to work, trading principle for political power. Why did LBJ keep sending troops to Viet Nam after he was told by his good friend, Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, a rockhard conservative, that the war was lost in Viet Nam? Political power. Why will Obama send more troops to Afghanistan even though he suspects that the cause is lost? Political power. Why did Bush invade Iraq? Political power. Why did Bush christen our response to 9/11 a "War on Terror"? Political power. Why did the Democrats abandon the idea of a single payer health care system? Political power. It is always about political power. Any actions on behalf of principle or principles may be labeled "aberrations."

Moreover, this was the way the system was designed to work. James Madison helped to create a political system that would operate on the basis of calculation. Interest groups would form, lots of them, and the only way to get anything done would be by means of calculation and compromise. Of course, in such a system politicians become master calculators, or at least pretend to be, and especially calculators on how to maintain their political power. How many articles have been written analyzing how congressmen are voting based on their chances for re-election? I have seen quite a few and they always read as if these people were behaving in a wholly natural way. I can hear them now: "Let me see. The decision is whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, which I know is a losing cause. However, if I vote against sending more troops there, I will be labeled a wimp, a coward, an opponent to the War on Terror. It is better, that is, safer to send the troops. When it doesn't work out we can blame the Afghans, who every one knows are corrupt and incapable of governing themselves! Yes, that's the ticket."

Politics in the land of the free and the home of the brave is rarely about principle. And, in fact, it is so rarely about principle that we have forgotten how to think about, talk about, and act on principles. What we get these days are the ravings of those on the right and the left, which pass for principled arguments. For Real!

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