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November 26, 2007
According to intellectual historian Richard Weaver (1910–1963), a republic devoted to freedom and order requires a rational citizenry who will hearken to the voice of a man of principle. In this essay, we shall define what it means to be a man of principle. Then we shall review the presidential candidates to see if any of them stand out from the crowd according to these principles.
Politics is a moral enterprise
Aristotle defined politics as a moral enterprise. Free citizens deliberate the question “How ought we to order our life together?” Political discussions are full of words like “ought,” “should,” “fairness,” “equity,” and “justice.” Aristotle believed in “moral universals” — that is to say, certain things are universally right and wrong in all human societies. Therefore, he did not hesitate to use the word “ought.”
The leadership of a man of principle is needed when the citizens of a republic are asking the question: “How ought we order our life together?” (See Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics and Politics. Also see Richard John Neuhaus’ essay “Politics and Bioethics,” First Things, November 2007)
Philosopher Jurgen Habermas distinguishes between political ethics and political morality. He has a truncated view of political ethics, but a broad view of political morality. His political ethics focuses on the process of political discourse, such as how one evaluates and deals with the propositions of political opponents
In contrast with his contracted definition of ethics, Habermas tells us expansively that political morality has to do with “the interests of all,” and therefore, political theory is fundamentally concerned with morality. Aristotle and Habermas are as different as men can be, and yet both concluded that politics is a moral enterprise. (See “Public Morality, Public Reason” by Robert P. George. First Things, November 2006.)
Politics as a quest for power
If Weaver, Aristotle, and Habermas are right, a man of principle in politics must believe that politics is a moral enterprise and should speak and act accordingly. He must not behave like Machiavelli or Cardinal Richelieu, who were primarily concerned with enhancing the power, prestige, and influence of the prince.
One who denies that we live in a moral cosmos will inevitably think that politics is solely concerned with the acquisition and use of power. Unfortunately, this is exactly what college students are taught in Political Science 101. The secular university is corrupting the leaders of the future by teaching them to be Machiavellians. The Machiavellian will invariably rule as an unprincipled man as he tramples on morality and ethics in the headlong pursuit of power.
Those who deny that man is a moral being subject to moral laws will be offended by a man of principle. They would ban such men from power and insist that a Machiavellian rules over them.
The enduring popularity of Bill and Hillary Clinton, who both possess a Machiavellian political genius, comes immediately to mind. If Richard Weaver, is right, the political triumph of the most expert manipulators of their fellow citizens might be an harbinger of a crisis of the Republic. A time of crisis is when the leadership of a man of principle is most needed.
Two earmarks of the principled man in politics are: 1) A principled man regards politics as a moral enterprise, and 2) He speaks truth to the people and does not manipulate them.
Due to the low moral tone of modernity, such men are rare. If history is a guide, men of principle tend to emerge during times of crisis. Therefore, a republic needs a man of principle waiting in the wings, ready to take the reins of power with a firm hand in a time of troubles.
A man of principle waiting in the wings
When George Washington answered the call to lead the army, he saved the Republic. When he refused to become king, he saved the infant Republic from reverting to monarchy. When he answered the call to be the first president, he provided an impressive example of how a man of principle could lead a free people and protect their rights, instead of threatening their rights.
Both the friends and enemies of Washington recognized him as a man of principle. If a man of principle appeared today and was waiting in the wings, would the citizens recognize him as such? If the people recognized him, would they hearken to him? The citizens would recognize him if they were sufficiently rational. They would hearken to him if they were sufficiently moral.
Unfortunately, fallen men bridle against the leadership of a man of principle. However, a crisis of the Republic might arouse the survival instincts of citizens. At such a moment, they might call upon a man of principle to lead the Republic through the time of crisis.
Trading a lion for a mouse
Winston Churchill’s party rejected him because he told them unpleasant truths about Hitler that they did not want to hear. They sent Churchill into the political wilderness for a season. Such is the typical fate of the principled man who is stranded in the moral and cultural wasteland of modernity.
Parliament preferred the wishful thinking of the naive Neville Chamberlain, who said, “Peace in our time,” and attempted to appease Hitler. After Chamberlain left the room, Hitler asked, “Why do I have to deal with nonentities?
When the crisis of war came upon them, Parliament dismissed the weak Chamberlain and installed the strong Churchill as prime minister. The imminent danger to the survival of Great Britain brought them to their senses, and they called upon a lion with a great oratorical roar to lead them.
Soon after the allies of WWII were victorious over the axis powers, the voters threw Churchill’s party out of power (July, 1945). The moral commitment and self-sacrificing will of the British were exhausted by five years of heroic leadership and a war of Homeric scope. The Brits wanted relief from the strain of heroism and sacrifice and yearned for a return to a calm, comfortable mediocrity.
Parliament installed the meek and ineffectual Clement Atlee as the new prime minister. The Brits exchanged a lion for a mouse. The obsequious Atlee proceeded to break up the British Empire in order to pander to world opinion and diminish the arduous global responsibilities of Great Britain. Millions died during the ensuing partition of India.
In like manner, congressional Democrats demanded a precipitous withdrawal from Vietnam after Nixon and Kissinger brought the conflict there to a Korea-style settlement. After the unwarranted American withdrawal, millions in Indochina died in a genocidal bloodbath. The Democrats have never accepted responsibility for withdrawing the umbrella of protection that sheltered millions of lives. Atlee never took responsibility for the rivers of blood that were shed during the partition of India. Let millions die — just so we have peace, comfort, and freedom from responsibility. It is the calculation of a moral mouse. Politics is a moral enterprise, and only moral men are fit for it.
When the mouse is away the cats will play
Churchill said, “When the mouse is away, the cats will play.” (When Atlee is away on a trip, parliament will play naughty games.) Churchill also said of Atlee: “He is a very modest man with much to be modest about.”
Jimmy Carter was the American Atlee. As Atlee was promoted during the time of public exhaustion after WWII, Carter climbed to power during the exhaustion following the Vietnam War and Watergate. As Atlee gave away India, Carter gave away the Panama Canal.
The moral of the story is: (1) When the voters reject a man of principle or are demoralized by a long crisis, they are apt to choose a nonentity or a mouse to lead them. A mouse would rather give away precious national possessions than to lead their nations like men of courage. (2) During a time of crisis, the Republic might well turn to a man of principle waiting in the wings. A shaken people might give him a mandate to slay their dragons. (3) Men such as Washington, Lincoln, and Churchill are steady in the face of adversity and don’t quit before the job is done even if they are exhausted.
Their virtues of such men are engraved on their hearts. Their commitments are steadfast and are not blown about by momentary enthusiasms and passing fads. When they speak, they have moral authority. George Washington had such a formidable moral authority that his icy stare could stop a riot. His majestic appearance with a contingent of troops caused the Whiskey Rebellion to peacefully dissolve.
The man of principle is steadfast
A man of principle is steady in the face of evil and adversity, doesn’t quit before the job is done, and has moral authority.
To paraphrase Aristotle, courage is being steadfast concerning things that are harmful. Allow me to amplify the concept by saying that the courage of a political leader is virtuous if the leader does not change his mind concerning things that are evil and harmful in spite of having to endure fiery ordeals, daunting exertions, and the endless toil of faithful service, while enduring the calumny of his enemies. The vicissitudes of fortune do not make him change his account of right and wrong. When Solzhenitsyn clung to his integrity through many years of suffering in the gulag, he gained moral authority in the eyes of the entire world.
The man of principle is not like the fickle American Democrats who changed their minds about the jihadist terrorists being evil and dangerous because they are tired of the war. The courageous leadership of President Bush has saved us from a second great attack terror attack like 9/11. The ungrateful Democrats in Congress are railing against this man who restored their feeling of security.
“This was the unkindest cut of all; for when the noble Caesar saw him stab, ingratitude, more strong than a traitors’ arm, quite vanquished him…” (Mark Anthony’s soliloquy on ingratitude, Julius Caesar, Shakespeare).
Washington and Lincoln endured the bitter calumnies of the ungrateful and were admirable in their moral authority and their steadfastness in adversity. Churchill was particularly admirable in his steadfast insistence that the Nazis were evil and a danger to civilization. Ronald Reagan rightly called the Soviet Union “an evil empire.” President Bush rightly called Iraq, Iraq, and North Korea “the axis of evil.” The principled man correctly identifies the malefactors and calls evil by its right name.
Churchill and Reagan persevered until the job was done. President Bush has been steadfast in pursuing an unpopular war against a great evil that is a threat to civilization. That was principled, and he should be honored for it. However, he has squandered his moral authority by failing to protect American sovereignty by securing the southern border and enforcing the law concerning illegal aliens. That was unprincipled. Bush scores high in the profiles of courage, but ranks below Reagan and Truman in the pantheon of Presidents because he lost moral authority.
All of the Democratic candidates for president have lost patience with the war, and none are willing to call the Islamic jihadists evil. All downplay the danger of the jihadists to the survival of Western civilization. All are Chamberlains and none are Churchills. Among the Republican candidates, Ron Paul is clearly a Chamberlain. His shrill complaints about American sacrifices evokes the whiney voice of a spoiled adolescent who has just discovered that adulthood requires resolution, personal sacrifice, and self-denial.
Rationality and law
Plato says in the Laws that man is endowed with a “divine spark of reason,” which enables them to formulate laws and live as citizens with self-restraint. He said, “We should run our public and our private life in obedience to what little spark of immortality lies within us and dignify this distribution of reason with the name of law. It cannot be an accident that the name of this god-given and wonderful institution, law (nomos), is so suggestive of reason (nous).” (See First Things, November 2007, Plato as Statesman, Mary Ann Glendon)
God gave man reason and a moral sense so that he could live under law. Therefore, Plato rightly noticed the hint of divinity in reason and law. The intimate link between reason and law is discerned by the man of principle. Thus, Plato concluded that the republic that is led by rational men has good laws and is blessed by the gods.
Laws and political principles must be true in accordance with the universal moral law and the understanding of right reason. With regard to moral truth, the man of principle must be “orthodox,” meaning he embraces “correct opinion.” He believes that there is such a thing as truth and virtue, and he means to have them. He is driven (as if by the gods) to go to great trouble to made sure he has got these things right. He disciplines his intellect and plumbs the depths of his conscience in his search for truth. If he is a Christian, he humbles himself before God, in order to be guided by “the spirit of truth.” (John 14:17)
The principled man is both moral and rational. The principled man follows the universal moral law and the councils of right reason. However, he falls short if he does not have self-control. The great men cited in this essay had self-restraint in the use of power. The principled man is restrained in the use of power.
A Republic blessed by the gods
In Plato’s Laws, an Athenian, a Spartan and a Cretan travelers were discussing the laws of a republic. The Cretan shrine to which they traveled was erected to commemorate the divine origin of the laws of Crete. According to the Athenian traveler, Athens was not as blessed by the gods as Crete. Athens had civic disorders caused by the misuse of liberty and the lack of restraint by the rulers and the ruled.
Plato had viewed Athens with different eyes in his youth. The grandiose utopian schema of The Republic written by the young Plato compares poorly with the wisdom of the old Plato who wrote The Laws.
The travelers in Plato’s story concluded that in order to provide restrain the rulers, the government should have checks and balances. The American founders designed the Constitution, complete with checks and balances, as a grand schema to restrain those with power. The mature Plato would have approved.
The travelers also concluded that laws should protect private property, private families should be honored, and homosexuality should be condemned. The old, wise Plato was a defender of family values. The foolish young Plato wanted to abolish the traditional family to make way for a utopian social engineering program and was tolerant of homosexuality.
Those who seek political utopias create a hell on earth. When the family is abolished, the people quickly become depraved, as the English schoolboys did in The Lord of the Flies. They turned their tropical paradise into a nightmare of barbarism.
The dilemma of a Republic
The wise old Plato realized that the laws provide wholesome restraints and boundaries and a regime of freedom and order in balance. However, fallen men tend to chafe against wholesome boundaries and restraints. This is the central dilemma that every republic must face.
Free men who have prospered in a blessed republic perversely test and push against the boundaries that have been established by their forebears to keep them free, safe, and reasonably content. Their wicked hearts lust for the forbidden fruit just beyond the wholesome boundaries.
Edith Wharton wrote in The House of Mirth about a foolish woman who stamped her mail with a boat setting sail with the words “beyond.” Whatever she obtained, she wanted something “beyond.” However good the life the life she enjoyed within the conventions and mores of her society, she wanted something “beyond.”
In a letter to William James, Wharton lamented the depredations of modernism. “Everything that used to form the fabric of our daily life has been torn in shreds, trampled on, destroyed … including hundreds of little incidents, habits, traditions,” which she recorded from her memories. With each social convention, the moderns had thrown off, an understanding of human nature latent in those conventions was lost. (See “The Genius of Old New York,” book review by Cheryl Miller of Edith Wharton, by Hermoine Lee — Claremont Review of Books, Fall 2007)
James Madison, the designer the American Constitution, deeply understood the inherent dilemma of a republic in which fallen men dare to be free, but chafe against the restraints that keep them free. He designed the checks and balances in the Constitution to force ambitious and willful men to crash against each other as they try to break through constitutional boundaries. He knew that mere self-restraint would not suffice, so he harnessed rascals to keep other rascals within their proper jurisdictions. A rascal will intrude on another man’s prerogatives if he can get away with it, but will fight like an angry wildcat if another rascal intrudes on his prerogatives.
We are living in a dangerous day when many citizens have become hyper-individualistic and have cast off self-restraint. Liberal judges not only refuse to control themselves, but they concoct dubious legal theories to rationalize their intention to break free from constitutional controls. Unleashed from judicial restraint, they yearn to create law as though they were a legislature.
How does a principled Supreme Court justice behave? Justices Anthony Scalia and Clarence Thomas follow Judge Robert Bork’s theory of “original intent.” When in doubt about the meaning of a constitutional clause, the principled judge studies diligently to ascertain what the founders meant when they wrote the words. The words had real meaning to the founders, and they expected posterity to understand them.
Serious research and intellectual commitment is needed to find out what the words were intended to mean. Study, self-discipline, commitment, and arduous intellectual toil is the way of the virtuous judge. He must restrain himself when he is tempted to take an intellectual or moral shortcut, or to make the words say what he wants them to say. The virtuous judge must place wax in his ears to block out the political and cultural siren songs as the court sails through stormy cultural seas.
In spite of tremendous pressure from wicked men who are chafing against the limits of power built into the Constitution, the principled judge will respect and protect the boundary lines, just as the founders set them down, as Justices Scalia and Thomas are striving to do. In this way, the Republic can survive and be proudly passed down to our children.
The scent of leviathan
One of the causes of the American Revolution was that many colonists suspected that King George III aspired to be a tyrant. When his policy was to recognize no limit on the arbitrary powers of the monarchy — even though his actual exercise of power was moderate by the standards of the day — the foul smell of inordinate personal ambition stung the noses of the colonists, who had grown accustomed to de facto self-government. They thought they smelled what Thomas Hobbes called Leviathan. The colonists were jealous of the liberty and the king was careless in the words with which he defined his policy.
Inordinate personal ambition tempts a man to crash through the boundaries of principle and law. Ronald Reagan said that we should look for the man who seeks office because there is a job that needs to be done that he can do. He said that such a man is willing to give someone else the credit as long as the job gets done. Reagan warned us not to trust the man who seeks office because he wants to be someone. For example, Jimmy Carter had no reason to become president other than his dreams of personal glory.
Aristotle warned against the political leader with libido dominandi, the unbridled lust for power and glory. Shakespeare’s plays are full of warnings against the lust for power. Richard III and MacBeth are about the increasing corruption engendered by personal ambition and the atrocities and public calamities that follow as men of inordinate ambition rise to power. Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar reveals the thoughts of friends of Caesar who were worried that he was getting too ambitious. Cassius smelled Leviathan and called it Colossus.
“[H]e (Caesar) doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus; and we petty men walk under his huge legs, to peep about to find ourselves dishonorable graves…. Now, in the names of all the gods at once, upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed, that he has grown so great?” (Cassius’ soliloquy)
“[L]owliness is young ambition’s ladder, whereto the climber-upward turns his face; But when he once attains the utmost round, he then unto the ladder turns his back, looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees by which he did ascend. So Caesar may….” (Brutus’ soliloquy).
The Apostle James warned about personal ambition in a more blunt and pithy manner: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition are, there is confusion and every evil deed.” (James 3: 13–18)
A moderate personal ambition is natural and healthy, but an inordinate ambition is corrupting. It is not success itself that corrupts, it is an grandiose ambition that brings delusion, infects the moral sense, and stirs up a man to crash through moral and legal boundaries. Beware the man of inordinate ambition.
The realm of politics is peculiarly prone to grandiosity. That is precisely why there is so much corruption and such rampant competition and division in the ranks. Are there any political organizations that are free of internal rivalries? No, not one. However, the leadership of a man of principle retards the rivalries like salt slows the decay of food. The internal rivalries within the Reagan and Lincoln administrations were not pretty, but worked more slowly and were ultimately less damaging than the rivalries in most other administrations.
How does moderate personal ambition get inflated into a foul monstrosity? By lust for power and glory, driven by the raging of infernal pride. These potent poisons destroy the soul. Inordinately proud men who fear for their immortal souls might think twice about a career in politics.
Can a man of principle be ambitious? Yes, if the ambition is free of the proud lust for power and glory. He must see himself as a man with a noble mission who needs influence to carry out the mission. He must conceive the mission as the expression of his deep beliefs and moral convictions, and he must work for the sake of the Republic, not for his own sake. Once again, he must view politics as a moral enterprise and not merely as a means to power by which he can exalt himself in the floodlights of fame, or indulge in the selfish gratifications of power, as he rules amidst his fawning sycophants.
The scent of the sycophant
When Jimmy Carter hired a staff of people in their twenties, it was a sure sign that he was gathering fawning sycophants around him. The sycophants, yes men, and groupies are there to flatter the swollen, but tender, ego of the leader. They will encourage him to use his power to gratify himself. Avoid the man who is followed by sycophants and mediocrities.
In contrast to Carter, Lincoln and Washington surrounded themselves with the greatest men of the day, even though they knew that some of these men would not be afraid to oppose him or think themselves to be better men than him.
President Bush gets middling scores in this department. Cheney and Rumsfeld are men of weight, but Harriet Miers and Alberto Gonzales are mediocrities.
Harry Truman overcame the temptations of his petty and cantankerous personality by hearing his staff’s advice and then asking them, “Now, what do we have to do for the country?” That shifted their minds away from the question “What do we have to do to make the boss feel good?”
John Adams was like Truman. He was personally petty and cantankerous, but never failed to act upon the best interests of the Republic. I always have a throb of joy when I reflect upon the steady virtues of this indispensable founding father who was disliked and unappreciated in his own day and is now eclipsed only by the glory of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln.
Arbitrary law and the will to power
The crafting of laws by a legislature is a moral enterprise. Most of our criminal and civil laws and penalties for crimes and torts are based on moral judgments. A legislature filled with men who think politics is only about power would not employ moral reasoning to make proper moral judgments as they craft legislation. Their laws would be arbitrary and unjust.
Principled law is rational and moral. In contrast, Arbitrary law is formed by the manipulative human will to power. The man of principle eschews arbitrary law and arbitrary uses of power.
Principled law is formed (1) by those with proper legal jurisdiction, (2) who discover law and no not create law, (3) who work within boundaries set by the Constitution and longstanding legal precedent, and (4) who insist that law be rational and moral.
The American Republic has long enjoyed a government of laws and not men. When the man of principle vanishes, we shall soon have a government of men who subvert the law to serve their will to power. The new regime of arbitrary power will mean the end of the Republic. America will no longer be the premier nation of the world, but will shrink into a European-style mediocrity.
Boys swimming on a sea of glory
John Gregory Mantle said that the works of many religious people are “learned behavior built upon a corrupt root.” That is the state of a child who is well instructed in right and wrong and follows those instructions by rote and not by a sense of moral conviction. We all know children from good homes who are willing to do their chores, but go groaning and complaining to their task. When faced with the powerful temptations of adolescence, the outwardly good boy sometimes becomes a bad boy.
Beware of the fair-haired boy in politics, who is promoted too rapidly in the springtime of life. Concerning promotions in the church, Paul counsels that it be “Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil” (I Timothy 3:6). When the novice is promoted too quickly, he might not have the weight of character to withstand the blandishments of personal glory. Like Lucifer, he might proudly reach beyond his station and be ignominiously cast off his pinnacle of exaltation and fall into obloquy and perdition. Beware the fair-haired boy.
Harold Stassen (1907–2001) was the governor of Minnesota at 31, the youngest governor in American history. As the “boy wonder” he gave the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention in 1940. He never recovered from being the fair-haired boy in the national limelight. He ran for president nine times. A photograph taken late in his life reveals an old man wearing a wig of blond wavy hair with locks coming down to his eyebrows. Fifty years had passed since his famous speech and he still saw himself as the fair-haired boy.
The fall from power of a fair haired boy who has progressed far into the realms of power and glory can be brutal. Shakespeare put these words of woe into the mouth of Cardinal Wolsey after he fell from favor with the king. ” Farewell, a long farewell to all my greatness! This is the state of man. Today, he puts forth the tender leaves of hope, tomorrow blossoms, and bears his blushing honors thick upon him; The third day comes a frost, a killing frost…. I have ventured like little wanton boys that swim on bladders, this many summers in a sea of glory; but far beyond my depth: my high-blown pride at length broke under me; and now has left me weary and old with service, to the mercy of a vain stream that must forever hide me. Vain pomp and glory of this world, I hate ye!” (Henry VIII)
The fair-haired boy makes a proud show of his virtues on the public stage, as did Cardinal Wolsey, but in his heart he is still a rascal and a scamp. When finally exposed, his fall from glory is bitter and heart-wrenching.
The Christian in power
Jimmy Carter had faith in God, and many evangelicals voted for him for this reason. Unfortunately, Carter was a man of shockingly childlike naivety about the forces of evil in the world. He was something of a clown as he grinned and preened for the cameras. Some people of faith never grow up spiritually, intellectually, or emotionally. When a man is running for president, the voter should ask himself if the man is a mature Christian or a perpetual babe in Christ. Discern the spiritual maturity of the Christian candidate.
When Pat Robertson ran for president, my sister and I watched him in a debate and compared him with the other candidates. I asked her how he came off in comparison with the other candidates: as a heavyweight, middleweight or lightweight. She said “middleweight.” In spite of Robertson’s obvious versatility, his heft in Christian broadcasting did not fully translate into the political arena. Men are designed and developed by God for special purposes, but many are not cut out for the maelstrom of politics. Discern whether the man is fitted to the office.
However, faith in God can be the basis of greatness in the political arena. A mature Christian is sometimes amazingly versatile, like Sir Thomas More, “a man for all seasons.” As a Renaissance man of great literary distinction, as a philosopher and theologian, and as a lawyer and judge, More was world class. As a bon vivant and raconteur and wit he had no equal in the circles of Renaissance men or in the court of King Henry VIII. He was a master of diplomacy, court intrigue, and the fine arts of persuasion. He was a fine family man and won friends of exceptional loyalty. He was one of the greatest chancellors of England, a position that requires the mastery of administration, law, finance, and political policy.
To cap it off, More was a man of principle and a living saint. He died a martyr and was canonized a saint after his death. He was an unusually gifted man, as well as a spiritually-minded man of great depth. His fine education and deep spirituality worked together to produce an exceptional versatility that translated brilliantly to the field of politics and public administration.
More was never lifted up in pride by the glory of his office, as was his predecessor, Cardinal Wolsey. More’s secret was the spirituality of the cross. Through meditation on the cross of Christ, More mortified his pride and remained humble. His humility enabled him to convey a winsome sense of humanity.
The Christian world view
One thing religious faith can provide for a president is a coherent world view. Unfortunately, Jimmy Carter was a Christian by religious faith, but he partially adopted a world view of liberal modernism. He had two irreconcilable world views fighting within him, and the frequent result was confusion. Most of his advisors were liberals, and this tipped the balance of his administration towards liberalism.
Although Carter is the most obvious example of the confusion of world views, many politicians are double-minded and have a grey area where two incompatible world views overlap. Many conservative Republicans have failed to fully divest themselves of modernism and retain cactus patches of liberalism on the fringes of their conservative orchard. President Bush is a perfect example of an evangelical and a conservative who occasionally acts like a liberal. Find out if the Christian who aspires to power has a well developed Christian world view.
Alan Keyes, man of principle
My original intention for this essay was to rate all the Republicans according to the principles I’ve identified. Unfortunately, that would require another essay. Several of the Republican candidates look fairly good as men of principle. However, one stands out from the pack: my favorite candidate, Alan Keyes.
Several of the conservative Republican candidates might agree that politics is a moral enterprise, and they ground their moral beliefs in their Christian faith. Alan Keyes goes a step further. He starts with God Himself in defining his premises. Then he reasons from God to his position on moral issues. How do I know this? I have heard him do this in his speeches and debates.
Most candidates balance pragmatism with principle. Keyes does not. How do I know this? As a policy advisor to his campaign, I occasionally suggest we avoid certain positions for practical political considerations. The answer I sometimes get back from the team is that Keyes is not a pragmatist. If he believes in something, he will go for it. When he had a TV talk show, his candor and directness came as a shock to the viewers accustomed to politically correct double talk. We have here a rarity: a truly honest man in politics. Keyes is the “honest Abe” of our day.
Just as Churchill was persistent in calling the Nazis terrorists, Keyes has been consistent in calling terrorists evil and gay sexual perversions sinful. He cannot be intimidated into silence on these issues. That is the real reason he lost his TV talk show on MSNBC. His banishment by the media is reminiscent of Churchill’s banishment by parliament because he refused to be silent about the Nazis.
In my judgment, Keyes is the most intelligent and articulate man in politics. As a defender of constitutional principles, he puts me in mind of Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia. As the scourge of arbitrary law, he has given articulate and impassioned speeches throughout the country.
Keyes is the only American politician who openly talks about the cross of Christ during forums that are open to the public. I cannot think of another politician who has done this since William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925).
The deep personal confrontations that Keyes has had with the cross are the best remedy for the pride and inordinate ambition that public figures are prone to. I wrote about the mortification of pride by the power of the cross in my book The Stages of Sanctification, before I met Alan Keyes.
The cross is also a blessed hiding place when the storms of life are overwhelming. If only our political leaders knew about this hiding place when they are shredded by the political meat grinder and need refuge and surcease.
More vs. Wolsey and Keyes vs. Clinton
Recall that Sir Thomas More was prepared for service by the cross. He entered service fit and trimmed of vanity. In contrast, Cardinal Wolsey indulged his pride and his inordinate personal ambition. He held more land and treasures than the king. He tried to become the pope while serving as Chancellor of England. This was a grandiose excess, even by Renaissance standards. The offended king cast him down to ignominious ruin.
The difference between More and Wolsey is the difference between the man of ability who follows the cross and the man of ability who follows the siren song of personal ambition. Alan Keyes is like More, and Bill Clinton is like Wolsey.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a man of principle — Alan Keyes.