Tuesday, September 21, 2004

COLUMN -- What’s important is candidate’s philosophy, not stand on issues

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:21 PM |  

Pioneer Press
Sep. 15, 2002

Knowledge of where a political candidate stands on "the issues" is like knowledge one is incontinent.

In terms of benefit, both are relatively useless pieces of information. Knowledge of a candidate's position provides rationale for a vote but doesn't prevent one from "wetting" himself.

Take those stained by support for the likes of Nixon, Clinton or Ventura. Despite ever-present mudslinging, modern political campaigns do not lack for discussion of the issues; however, they are completely devoid of political thought. What passes for "political thought" is simply pedantic party propaganda without context, substance or philosophical grounding.

Gone are the great substantive debates on the nature and just function of government.

Come campaign season, we voters are subjected to political pornography appealing to our prurient interest in "hot" issues that lack "serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value." Issues are but the beat for the bump-and-grind stump speeches of gyrating campaigners more concerned with the style of the dancing than the nature of the dance.

Minnesota's four major parties fall into three definable issue positions lying along the conventional left-to-right political spectrum.

At the two extremes are the liberal left and the conservative right, represented on the left by the Green Party and the majority of Democrats and on the right by traditional Republicans. Extreme party positions ostensibly derive from core principles — although it is serendipitous indeed how often political "principles" confirm a politician's personal prejudices.

Extreme parties seize issues that are more naturally matters of individual concern and generalize them into a collective "crisis" requiring immediate legislative interference — action less intended to solve "problems" than to increase party power. Their constituents need not ask what their country can do for them; extreme party candidates make their constituents a plethora of offers they cannot refuse — all at the expense of others.

Contrasted with the two extremes is the "centrist" position defined by the Independence Party, "common-sense" Democrats and "moderate" Republicans.

The centrist position has no latitude and longitude of principle, but shifts and slides along the political spectrum with the "will of the electorate."

Centrists offer no new thought, simply co-opting the most personally palatable and popular positions from both the right or the left, lacing them with a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

Gov. Jesse Ventura is the centrist poster boy. Based "on his keen understanding of what the people want," Ventura makes a stand today, but provides no principles that indicate where he might stand tomorrow. Consistency of principle is less than a priority.

The point is this: positions on issues do not necessarily reveal a candidate's philosophy on the most fundamental of all political questions — "to what extent should government control the lives of its citizens?"

Voters should not allow candidates to get away with merely "sticking to the issues."

The question that should be put to every candidate at every opportunity and against which his every stated issue position should be judged is simply this — "Which of the following is the primary factor determining your position?"

a) The desire of the majority of your constituents.

b) Your personal convictions.

c) The visible benefits of the policy.

d) The constitutional authority of government to be involved.

"A" is the answer of the politician who only tells you what you want to hear — provided you are in the majority.

"B" is the answer of the activist who goes into politics to implement his vision of the way society should be — implemented with your money and "for your own good."

"C" is the legacy builder's answer. He's very good at pointing to all the "great" things government does with tax dollars — ignoring that the money taken from the people might otherwise be spent on things of their own choosing, creating other benefits to society that are now lost.

"D" is the answer of a statesman. It's the answer of a candidate who understands that government is not instituted to fulfill the majority's desires at the expense of the minority, that it is not a personal vehicle to implement the candidate's vision of the way things ought to be, and it is not instituted to redistribute wealth from some groups to others.

The statesman understands that in a free society the primary function of government is maximizing the liberty of its citizens, not controlling or planning their lives.

Issues may be important to getting elected, but political thought is critical to governing justly.