Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The GOP and the Image Problem

Patrick O’Connor at the Politico describes efforts on the part of GOP leaders in Congress to forge a new and improved image. To do this, GOP hot shots have turned to private sector marketing techniques and advisers. While there may be some limited merit to this approach, it appears to me to be a rather pathetic attempt to shove a sheep into sheep’s clothing. In other words, haven’t we had enough of this sort of thing in recent years? Our problem is not so much an inability to sell what we offer but an inability to offer anything coherent to sell. For example, see the description of the problems existing between the moderate, Mike Castle and the conservative, Mike Pence. (I tend to think that moderates like Castle are less concerned that the GOP agenda is too conservative than they are worried it may be too conservative to get them elected . . . but that’s another matter.) The point is, how do you market indecision and confusion?

At any rate, the GOP should be chastened by the example of what happened the last time a prominent Republican hearkened back too much to his training in business school.

Discussions - 27 Comments

(I tend to think that moderates like Castle are less concerned that the GOP agenda is too conservative than they are worried it may be too conservative to get them elected . . . but that’s another matter.)

Actually that's not another matter. First, its not true, and second, it wouldn't justify their actions even if it were.

Offhand, it sounds like another example of Republican leaders lazily falling back on business models for politics. These two worlds are quite different, and the sooner the top GOP "suits" grasp this, the better.

Reagan and Gingrich delivered victory and majorities. The farther we get from their clear-eyed Conservatism, the farther we get from political power. It's real simple. And it's no coincidence that both Bush Presidents left a party in their wake vulnerable to 3d party, 3d candidate hankerings.

The Bush family has proven a nightmare for my party.

And the dopes in this administration won't even bother to defend the dollar.

A question for Julie:

Four men are stranded at sea for 20 days with no water, 2 lbs of turnips, and a small turtle that they caught. After 20 days all four are on the verge of death. Two of the men decide to kill the youngest and weakest member of the group so that the rest might be saved. The one they kill is lying feebly on the deck and makes no resistance. The two who killed him and the third man feed upon the one they killed, surviving four more days until they are rescued. Had they not fed on the deceased all four would have died before rescue. The one they killed was the weakest member of the group and was likely to have died first and regardless of help. Have these two men committed murder, or should their act be justified?

Well Clint...these ethics as doomsday senarios are rather interesting. Mostly they are a chance to pat ourselves on the back for supposedly clear ethical thinking. I am very suprised that 4 people could live for 20 days with no water even assuming semi-hydrating turnips and a sea turtle. If I was on the boat thinking about the situation it would probably take me less than 20 days to kill and eat another passenger. You could call this murder, but as you make clear in the scenario no one survives otherwise. The question is how you would know that no one survives or could survive otherwise. If you know everything that you suggest in your scenario then it isn't murder. I could also immagine a scenario where you kill and eat everyone and still don't get rescued...everyone dies anyways... I could also immagine a situation where people thinking ahead of survival chances decide to kill other passengers before anyone comes to be too weak to keep wits and ensure the capability for survival. Lets say after day two one passenger does the math and figures that survival with any decent chance of rescue requires immediately killing off the other survivors. He kills everyone else and is rescued in 3 days with more rations than can be justified. Perhaps this man of foresight does the same thing and survives 50 days without ever being rescued. Or perhaps he is saved on the 50th day and it is clear he would never have survived had he been more patient and reticent about taking human life.

The only truth of the matter is that in these senarios judgement is a matter of life and death.

I laugh at all these scenarios because by giving us 20/20 hindsight they provide us with easy answers. In such a scenario the truth of the matter is that there is no 20/20 foresight.

Some people would say that survival isn't the highest consideration, and there may even be vegetarians who refuse to eat the turtle. Does the vegetarian who refuses to eat the turtle get a higher compensating ration of turnips? If so then does this unfairly weaken others who get less hydration from the turtle than they would from eating only turnips?

Suppose that the party is rescued and the only one who survives the extreme dehydration is the vegetarian who had more hydration via turnips? Supposing that had others had more turnips they would have survived...was the vegetarian wrong to insist on his moral hierachy trumping survival considerations for others?

Suppose we have a normal group with accordant discord on one boat and a bunch of Buddhist monks on another. Supposing the normal people end up following your first scenario. But lets suppose the monks release the turtle and live on the turnips and that all they all survive by falling into deep meditation and avoiding discord and useless energy expenditure with one another.

Maybe the discord causes bloodletting which brings sharks which provides a source of food...which allows the Hobbesians to survive while the monks die meditating. Maybe the Hobbesians that live eventually die and are reincarnated as coakroaches while the Buddhist attain enlightenment. Maybe, but how would you know?

No one gets out of life alive.

I digress...But here is how you challenge Huckabee being anti-business. If you read Huckabee on vertical and horizontal governance you won't be able to convince me that he isn't an MBA conservative, or that he isn't defending himself from the charge of being anti-business by adopting the language of business schools. Of course from a more entreprenerial classical liberal chicago austrian econ. perspective he isn't pro-business, but then you would be arguing that MBA programs are anti-business which is an interesting argument...but so far from being intuitive that few would grasp it.

All of this ends up creating a mentality where the answer to this question is answered: "How do you market indecision and confusion?" Simply by arguing against simple conceptualizations. Cast doubt everywhere and soon indecision and confusion seems to be a sign of wisdom. To cure the patient everyone knows that one must drill a hole in his head... not so fast says the doctor. If she burns at the stake she is a witch...not so fast says the lawyer...

Yes, the problem is not with their sales technique, it's with what they are selling.

In fairness, America may now be such a Tower of Babel that it is no longer possible to craft a political platform which is appealing to even 51% of the people.

Whats with that totally off topic question?

Four men are stranded at sea for 20 days with no water, 2 lbs of turnips, and a small turtle that they caught. After 20 days all four are on the verge of death.

After 20 days at sea with no water, they are all dead already.

John Lewis, you say it provides an easy answer, but you don't give one.

It may be a more practical question than you think, but the point of the question, for those who haven't followed previous discussions, is to cut to Julie's underlying ethics, whether she is at heart a pragmatist or principled political being. Once again her comment about moderates being moderate for the sake of election, shows her fundamental pragmatism.

The pragmatism to which I am pointing Clint, is not my own but rather that of most "moderates" in Congress. You may be tempted to call it cowardice. But cowardice presumes conviction and this flatters them. Those with convictions, therefore, have an easier task than they may imagine. They do not have to convince everyone who is without them to adopt their convictions. They should never abandon the effort to advance their principles, of course. And if it is possible, it is better to convince than to create tenuous associations. But in many cases, advancing principles may merely be a matter of showing a self-interested pragmatist how appearance of conviction can help him achieve his desired result of victory. This requires those with higher convictions to be clever--not simply committed to principle. With many people, it is easier to argue interest than principle. And the contrast between them need not be as stark as you may imagine.

I did not answer your question because--as others have shown--it wasn't nearly as probing as you thought. But here's one for you . . . if a man with no principles offered you a drink on that raft because he thought it in his interest to keep you alive for some low reason, would you refuse it out of principle? For my part, I'd be happy to let his low interests serve my higher purposes--as they should.

Julie, No one has shown that my question (which isn't really mine) was not probing. John L. just threw out a bunch of new facts that are actually tangential questions far less relevant. The facts I cited are REAL and cut right to the heart of a persons motivation-if that is the person thoughtfully answers it. A plethora of [questions] is not a solution. I do not address the other questions because no one has ventured a stab at the real issue, and frankly some of them are embarassingly off the topic of what motivates men. You won't answer the question because you know if you do, I'll crush you (in the words of one of our ex profs.)

In the spirit of learning, not the general political pragmatism of this blog, I'll take a swipe at your question: I would take the drink from the less than principled person provided it gave him no power over me which he could use for his evil ends. It is fine to use unprincipled people to follow the principled ends. It is not fine to allow unprincipled people to use and rule you. I would not in return for the drink become a slave to an unprincipled person, serving his regime of evil in return for my life [i.e. make a deal with the devil to win the war-W.C.]. While we may submit passively to evil rulers who (because most of America is stupid) rule us beyond our control, we cannot take part in empowering this, nor can we commit their unprincipled acts for them. You think that you can make the unprincipled Giuliani president and then use him to serve the principal. Not so my friend. Unprincipled people in power cannot be used (by men of principle) to serve the principled end. God may of course use as He does all, but men can only use unprincipled people for the good when were are on equal footing with them. By setting an unprincipled man above you, you serve principle not at all.

I'll take the drink if I keep my freedom, but I'll die before I choose to be a servant of an evil end.

In fairness, America may now be such a Tower of Babel that it is no longer possible to craft a political platform which is appealing to even 51% of the people.

Hmm, that sounds sort of like what Madison was talking about in Federalist #10....

Clint, I think that by the time you finished debating yourself about whether or not to take the drink, the question would be moot.

In the meantime, someone like me would have to take the drink instead, live to fight another day, and destroy the evil so the remaining members of your family might continue to live in freedom.

Clint, I did answer your question.

You ask: "Have these two men committed murder, or should their act be justified?" I say: "If I was on the boat thinking about the situation it would probably take me less than 20 days to kill and eat another passenger." Which means I think they are justified in taking life before it gets as bad as you claim in your so called "facts".

"The facts I cited are REAL"

I noted in my answer to you that it seems improbable that any could survive that long without water. The other John notes the same thing. Your facts are silly and the scenario is silly. But I will play along with the REAL facts.

Given that: "Had they not fed on the deceased all four would have died before rescue." If you can know this absolutely...then the moral considerations of the question vanish. The survivors are morally justified.

Bring it on Clint. Kant, and Mill are close to home.

Julie, you assume that a person can't do something that is right based on innate faculties and create the justification later. I wouldn't think twice, the true man just acts and acts correctly.

And you assume that your choice here--made in the realm of moral abstractions and vacuums--would ipso facto be the right choice. Neglecting, as you tend to do, the particulars of political situation and focusing only on abstract principles of right, your choices appear to be more dogmatic than "innate" in my view. If (by some miracle or luck) you lived on that raft, I have no doubt that you would in fact "create" some justification for your refusal to drink later.

Further, I know it is you fondest wish to turn this into a discussion of Giuliani (see #13). But, in order to do that, you have to assume that you are correct in your assessment of him as purely unprincipled. I do not accept that premise. And my original post had absolutely nothing to do with him. I think Giuliani has some good principles and I think he is mistaken about others. But it is patently unfair to say that he is unprincipled. On balance I think his principles are much to be preferred over all of the Democratic alternatives. But, as I said, Giuliani hasn't anything to do with this post without stretching it beyond recognition. If you want to talk about G., don't worry. There will be other posts!

Next, following the rest of your logic where you mean to take it, one has to assume that the president of the United States is the sovereign of the United States. You are right to say that the people are not on an equal footing with the President--but not for the reasons you suggest. They are not on an equal footing because they are superior to him. Of course he (and the rest of the government) can and should be put into our service. That's rather the point of constitutional government, isn't it? It exists in recognition of our sovereignty, not the other way around. This does not mean that they are simply going to do our bidding. But they can't ignore public opinion. A political figure with the right principles will serve the people's interests better than one who is not principled, of course. But an unprincipled one can be made to do a better job of it than one with bad principles if the people are more or less sound. And there's the rub for you . . . you do not think the American people are sound. Indeed, you claim that "most of America is stupid."

And you wonder why you're not persuasive?

Of course he (and the rest of the government) can and should be put into our service. That's rather the point of constitutional government, isn't it? No, the point of government is to rule.

I'm not engaged in mass politics currently. Sure you go tell the people what they want to hear to get power, but the best friend is the one that tells you when you're wrong. If you want to throw yourself on the public to win elections, be a Caesar. Government exists to tell the people when they are being stupid and need corrected...see the founding, The Federalist Papers, etc. The founders did not think of "public service," in the petty way you invoke it. It is a public service to correct the people, not indulge them.

Neglecting, as you tend to do, the particulars of political situation and focusing only on abstract principles of right, your choices appear to be more dogmatic than "innate" in my view.

You're the one who refuses to consider your views as applied to factual details, per the original question I asked. You're afraid of the answer of where your ideals will take you.

Actually, I withdraw my question in comment 4. It is sometimes preferable to exist in ignorance of the views of one's political fellows than to know their true motivations. From now on I will avoid all appeals to reason (which is abstract). I will only speak to the particulars of the situation in quiet contrition of my sinful appeal to the ideal. And if men were properly ordered this would be enough:

"O virtue! sublime science of simple souls, are so many difficulties and prepartions needed to know you? Are not your principles engraved in all hearts, and is it not enough in order to learn your laws to commune with oneself and listen to the voice of one's conscience in the silence of the passions? That is true philosophy."

Actually this is Clint, now commenting under my new name (I like to change regularly) and under my new philosophy. John L. you are a utilitarian, so you need not look to your Mill. Kantian you are not, nor Lockean, Rousseauan, Platonic....and in short 90% of Western Philosophy.

Forgive me, back to my new self. Yes, they should kill the boy to survive. Their survival will serve the greater good later, bring more overall happiness to society, and save 3 lives by merely choosing to take one. The higher good will be served in fact only by their killing the boy and saving themselves. By doing this, they "live to fight another day." It is an extremely prudent choice given the circumstances.

Of further interest.

I believe Tom Dudley was justified. As a captain I would have made the same decision. As the facts of the matter bear out Dudley did in fact act before the 20th day as I would have. It took him 8 days... that is sensible.

Are you going to hide behind a de-ontological framework?

You are right I love Mill and dislike Kant...

I am no lawyer and the particulars of the case are new to me, but the way you are framing this argument is old to me.

I will accept being called utilitarian...but I would rather be flat out called Machiavellian. Since you are going to go overboard with a politics of power theme why not escalate this even more?

Clint, let me reframe this in a generous way for Huckabee and yourself. Huckabee and his vertical and horizontal governance is MBA school mentality. As the Claremont article argues MBA programs were created to subjegate business via a de-ontological bias towards ethics to oppose the crazy forces of the Machiavellian/Lockeian/Utilitarian entrepreneur Zeitgeist. Alright, I am playing fast and loose here...horseshoes and hand grenades....but this is fairly true: "The idea was to train up a class of business administrators (the ethos was anti-entrepreneurial) who would expiate capitalism's sins by managing their corporations in keeping with the higher morality."

Clint, take your candidate Huckabee and argue that he is returning business to its proper place in the context of morality...argue that this is the true mission of MBA schools, go look up Daniel Bell, read a little Rawls to firm up your Kant and defend yourself from the Utilitarians...and make the argument that Huckabee is the pro-business candidate because he is the pro-MBA candidate and not the candidate of a narrow "utilitarian" micro-economic, entrepreneurial worldview of business/utility.

Its all about finding the proper lawgiver, the proper golden calf to grind and the proper ten commandments to replace it with.

Here is my Machiavellianism: All ethical perspectives are dominions of lawgivers and the princes who serve them from which power is held by virtue of that which is held to be the grounds of praise and blame. You are trying to be a lawgiver in a world where princes do not have that level of agency. Maybe Julie is a pragmatist and Guiliani is unprincipled, but the reality is that you can't simply issue a Fatwa and have everyone linning up to drink golden calf mixed with water.

John, do you have trouble with math: wreck on the 5th, murder on the 25th? Sounds like 20 to me, on the 8th day the killing was talked about, but alas they were stronger men than you.

I'm not really sure where your Huck/MBA rant comes from, other than left field. MBA's are quite successful, although Huck isn't really the MBA candidate as W. was. To the extent that MBA ethos isn't really Christianity (Huck's motivation), I think you're wrong.

Locke was not a utilitarian. Where does that come from? Nor was Machiavelli a man of The Politics of Power or a base utilitarian. He merely believed in using these motivations to assure that virtuous men rule. However, some conservatives misinterpret him as a pure pragmatist and glorify that aspect of him. Machiavelli wanted principled rulers who were strong in their principles [courageous] unlike the Papacy and cowardly power politics of Italy at the time.

You can side with Aaron and his silver tongue and golden calf; I'll take Moses as my hero.

Hell, they should have killed the kid on the first day. Actually the strongest man should have killed all three so he could last the longest. Yes, I love the simple interpretation of Machiavelli. At night I before I go to bed I read it face value and glory in its ways. I love killing men for power, thinking of ways to be in commanding and then commanding is all that is just. Actually the only reason I recognize God is because he is powerful. If it weren't for that, the heck with Him too.

Maybe Julie is a pragmatist and Guiliani is unprincipled, but the reality is that you can't simply issue a Fatwa and have everyone linning up to drink golden calf mixed with water.

...Well you could if you believed in self-evident truths, you know the ones that ring clear to all men at all times. But of course those don't really exist (for evidence on the ridiculousness of self-evident truths, see the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington...). People might not be drawn to the false god of the golden calf, but they will be innately drawn to the good and the beautiful.

My dear Clint . . . I am trying to be your best friend here and tell you when you are wrong. It seems that you are confusing the end of constitutional government (i.e., to secure good government) and the means to good government (i.e., taming the unbridled will of the majority)--with the origins of constitutional government (i.e., the sovereignty of the people born of their natural equality). The nature of a thing is defined both by its purposes (ends) and by its origins. Origins generally put some limitations on the ends of a thing stemming from necessity. Ends or purposes impose limitations on a natural tendency--but the difficulty with them is that they must be imposed (i.e., brought in from without and apart from the thing itself). They "ennoble" it, if you will. The origins of the people's sovereignty is in their equality. This means the majority will and must rule. But, as Jefferson argued, "for that rule to be rightful it must also be reasonable." Quite so. And yet, even so, the majority is not always reasonable. A statesman can help to persuade the majority to behave more reasonably. But it is silly to imagine that we will always have statesmen at the helm. It is better to depend on (and that means we have to foster) a self-governing people and an instrument (born of their consent) to tame their worst impulses.

You know very well that I did not describe public service in that "petty" way you wish to imply. You are willfully misreading me--or skipping what you will--in this instance. But be that as it may, it is certainly true that you overstate your case for the "stupidity" of the American people. Your apparent contempt for them is more akin to a call for a Caesar than my suggestion that most political figures will not and cannot and should not ignore public opinion. Recognizing this fact is no endorsement of pandering. Indeed, Lincoln knew that better than anyone else.

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