Monday, September 06, 2004

Means Versus Ends in the Big Tent

Buckle your seat-belts. This one will take a while. I’m diving into one of the “burning issues” I mentioned yesterday. It's going to take some context before I can get around the point I'm trying to make. And fair-warning, I'm aiming directly at a couple of hot button topics.

A couple of events have recently crystallized some basic things regarding Republican Party politics for me. And no matter the result of this year’s election, I think they’ll be critical in years to come.

Let’s identify the events first:

A. Alan Keyes being drafted to run for Senate in Illinois
B. Rudy Giuliani’s speech at the Republican Convention
C. My dad and I having a political argument around healthcare

A little background on where I'm coming from:

I’m a conception-to-death pro-lifer. I believe in a “strict constructionist” form of Constitutional federalism. I support the right to keep and bear arms, including the sort not suited for hunting. I think those who want to abolish mention of God and Christianity from our civic life are radical secularists who ought to be opposed.

You get the idea.

And it was this ideology that carried me into party activism as I engaged in adult civic responsibility.

In 1997, after the election of Bill Clinton to a second term, I came across Alan Keyes speaking to a university audience on CSPAN late at night. I was just flipping channels before going to bed. Instead I sat there riveted for almost an hour while he spoke. Electrifying would be a vast understatement. Among other issues, he truly shined when the topic came to abortion. He convinced me that this was the over-riding, most important issue of our day. And many of the other problems we faced were not separate matters, but rather stemmed from the moral corruption which came along with acceptance of abortion.

I went forth driven by this ideological vision, which Alan Keyes continues evangelizing very consistently to this day (and please, don’t deluge me with e-mails calling him as a hypocrite. He’s not. I could explain it in detail, but it simply isn’t relevant because this post has nothing to do with endorsing Alan Keyes. Stay with me, and I’ll get there.).

What Alan Keyes symbolized for me was pure ideological vision. He clearly saw what the nation was, where it came from, and where it should be. He also put it all in the perspective of the moral, God-centered ideology that I still agree supercedes the interests of the State.

And so I was a monetary and rhetorical supporter of Alan Keyes’ Republican Primary run in 2000. I realized he was an almost certain loser. But it didn’t matter. I thought the Primary was a great chance to get Dr. Keyes a platform from which to educate and persuade. To move the party closer to embracing the vision I had fallen for. And maybe – just maybe – Alan Keyes would get an important office out of it. If not president, maybe he’d be named secretary of something, or (my greatest hope) Vice President.

Out there on the opposite wing of the party were others who were unlike Alan Keyes in almost every way. They were pro-choice. They seemed happy with big government. They were keen on political tactics and contemptuous of ideology. People like Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York City.

I didn’t know much about him at all. I just knew he was pro-choice. I knew he was a “moderate.” To me that meant he was a RINO – Republican In Name Only. These were the people we ideologues wanted minimized in importance, if not exactly driven out of the party.

As we all know, Bush went on to win. I had a lively debate with a Freeper by the screen name of “Dales” on Free Republic before the election which had won me over to become an enthusiastic Bush-backer well before that time (I was persuaded almost entirely over the issue of advancing the pro-life agenda), so I was quite happy about it. But I can’t pretend George W. Bush was really my first choice in 2000.

So now, here we are attempting to re-elect George W. Bush in 2004. Unlike last time, I didn’t require any persuading to back him. 9/11 changed things to the point that was a total no-brainer. I was, in fact, quite excited about backing him headed into the Republican convention. And when I think about where I was in 2000, that says quite a lot.

The news of Alan Keyes being drafted to run in the Illinois Senate in this same election year left me strangely cold. I had very little desire to support him, though I still thought the positions he held were right. I still considered his “vision” sound. He just didn’t seem serious politically to me anymore. I could spin good or ill out of his joining the Senate race several ways, but none of them made a great difference to me ultimately.

This bothered me. Here was a guy I very much still agreed with. Yet I saw his candidacy as little more than a stunt or a diversion - and this was before he started making foolish statements to the press about reparations and the like.

Then came Rudy Giuliani’s speech at the RNC. Like most Americans, I now knew a lot more about him, and I respected him as well. But there was still that “pro-choice” thing dangling around his neck. I was inspired and exhilarated by his speech to the convention. But intellectually I was actually a little confused. I couldn’t square his pro-choice position with my support of him. But I knew he was exactly the kind of leader we needed after Bush’s second term was done. That very night I blogged suggesting Rudy should be the party’s nominee in 2008, but without claiming that I personally agreed with this idea. I still knew I personally couldn’t support him, due to the life issue. No small dilemma for me.

The moment when the two came together for me was when my Dad and I got into one of our occasional political debates, this time on the topic of healthcare. It was a doozy. I really tore into his position with unusual fervor.

Somewhere in the middle of it, I hit upon a theme he couldn’t answer except with emotion. Namely, that we don’t enact our idealistic ends by political means. We enact the means themselves.

It didn’t matter that dad was unhappy with private insurance companies and those they left without coverage. It didn’t matter that he wanted to government to make it all better. It mattered what specifically would be done by the government in response to his desired end. I was able to point out terrible consequences for every policy direction he could think of. He had no answers. Just the desired ends themselves. And those proved utterly inadequate as a guide to policy.

Wasn't until the following day that the same point hit me squarely between the eyes. It pointed directly to why I had disconnected from Alan Keyes, despite agreeing with his goals.

I’ll restate it, because it’s the main point: We don’t enact our idealistic ends by political means. We enact the means themselves.

Let’s analyze my pro-life impediment to supporting Rudy Giuliani in this light.

I’ve been in the pro-life camp long enough to know that we don’t expect our favored politicians to abolish abortion overnight. We’ve come to terms with the idea that we need to accept progress when and where we can. If we go for everything at once consensus within the pro-life movement (to say nothing of the wider Republican Party) breaks down to the point where we’re easily defeated in elections, congressional votes, public opinion, etc. And in that case, we don't save the life of a single child.

This political vulnerability exists because there are lots of different opinions about what it means to be pro-life. It’s not a single or simple political position. Some believe there should be no abortion in any circumstance. Other think it should be allowed in cases of rape or incest. Some support it through the first trimester, but no further. Others through the second. And this is only a small sampling of the differences of opinion within the pro-life movement.

Just like my dad had done with healthcare, I had confused my desired end of eliminating abortion with the means by which it might be achieved. To use the old phrase, I had allowed the perfect to become the enemy of the good.

That’s where a politician comes into play. It’s not his role to share all hundreds of diverse visions within the Republican Party on every matter. It’s his role to help those diverse visions come together in agreeement upon particular means where there is broad consensus. To some, those means might achieve the end they desire. To others, it's just a single step in a long road. But why should those two groups let that kind of difference deprive them both of something they agree on?

For example, perhaps it might be politically feasible to enact into law protection for third trimester unborn babies, even while a total overturn of abortion is impossible. It’s not inconceivable that Rudy Giuliani, or if not him other self described “pro-choice” candidates, could back that position. It's a reasonable compromise, and it fits solidly into an area where there is vast popular consensus.

Would that be the end of the struggle for pro-life types like me? No. But if we can get that much accomplished versus making no progress at all, the choice should be clear. No need to pretend some of us will stop advocating for more when we’re done with that. And no need for those who join us that far to pretend they wouldn’t oppose our attempt to go further. We don't need to have the same broad political ends in mind in order to agree on some immediate political goals (means to our different ends).

And that brings up a fourth important point I didn't mention before launching into this: the war.

The war has changed the right in ways it has not changed the left. The war has forced a lot of ideological conservatives, moderates, and even some cross-over liberals, to make hard choices. We’ve come to terms with supporting candidates we disagree with on issues that may even strike at the core of what we used to think of as our political identity for the sake of winning the war. Turns out we didn’t know our political identities as closely as we believed. This has forced some of us former idealists to quickly find ways to be pragmatists. Our very lives may depend on it.

I personally think this is a major reason why President Bush will trounce his Democratic opponent in November. Bush can bring the factions on the right together in ways Kerry cannot do on the left. But, not to overlook the importance of the upcoming election, let's think past it for a moment to 2008.

Imagine a primary in 2008. A voter with my ideology is weighing Rudy Giuliani versus Alan Keyes.

I would far more closely align with Alan Keyes ends. But I simply could not believe in the means by which he would attempt to achieve them. The first test of “means” is in actually getting elected. After that it is in getting things like legislation passed, and political allies elected and appointed. No matter how great an orator he may be (and he is) Keyes has shown little to no ability in any of these areas.

Given a reasonable political platform, which attempted to unify us around what means we hold in common, I could easily see myself supporting Rudy Giuliani. That's a lesson I likely would have missed had 9/11 not forced me to confront my own ideological blindspots.

And maybe that's why this strikes me as important. The concept of getting ideological voters to pull the lever for someone who doesn't share their full ideology isn't new. It's the "big tent" we've been hearing about for years.

But 9/11 changed us. It taught us more than HOW to construct a big tent in the abstract. It taught us WHY that was in our best interest - and not just in the limited tactical political sense, but in matters as important to us personally as life and death. And now that this that hard lesson has been learned, it need not be limited exclusively to fighting the war. It can be extended to fighting the other battles that face us as well.

Incidentally, this is not an endorsement of Rudy Giuliani in 2008. We have a long way to go between then and now, and before we seriously open that discussion we need to re-elect George W. Bush this November. But I consider it important that someone as far on the conservative right as me can look at a politician as socially moderate as Giuliani and feel very confident that we belong in the same party. The war did that, the convention demonstrated it, and now we need to make good use of it going forward.

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