The Art of Standing on Principle
This column by ACRU Policy Board Member Ken Blackwell was published March 7, 2016 by The Washington Times.
The Republican primaries are accelerating, with Donald Trump in the lead. He has sold himself as a pragmatic dealmaker willing to compromise. Perhaps the strongest attack made against his closest competitor, Ted Cruz, is that the Texas senator does not compromise. So firmly does Mr. Cruz stand for principle that not one of his Senate colleagues has endorsed him.
No one doubts that politics requires compromise. What distinguishes a transformational leader from a political hack is knowing when to do so.
Politics isn’t the same as business. The essence of commerce is dealmaking. Everyone expects mutual profit. It’s a positive-sum game. Both sides win —- or expect to win —- if a deal is made.
Politics is different. In Washington compromise usually only means mitigating damage. In recent years Democrats proposed outlandish new spending and regulatory measures. Republicans responded by supporting slightly less-bad policies.
Imagine your next-door neighbor declaring that he wants to burn down your property. You propose a typical Republican “compromise,” agreeing to torch the garage tonight, tool shed tomorrow night, and house the night after.
It is this kind of compromise that Mr. Cruz has firmly resisted.
Rather than being concerned about winning plaudits from the media, approval from Washington’s permanent government, or applause from his colleagues, he has battled on behalf of America’s founding principles, the ideals of individual liberty and limited government, and republican virtues.
On these issues there can be no compromise. That doesn’t mean political leaders should not work to limit the damage threatened by the left. But they shouldn’t sacrifice their principles in hopes of winning bipartisan agreement to pass something only slightly less harmful.
Consider some of the important issues today.
Perhaps nothing is more critical than the replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. When it comes to constitutional interpretation, you can’t be just a little bit pregnant. You either treat the Constitution as the nation’s fundamental law or as a warrant for social engineering. Republicans have an obligation to resist any Obama nominee, no matter how “moderate,” who would substitute his or her judgment for the Constitution.
Doing so requires being “obstructionist,” if necessary. That is, acting like Democrats did when they sought to block high court nominations by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. There was no cant about “compromise.” Then-Sen. Barack Obama joined a filibuster to prevent Bush fils from adding Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.
Repeal of Obamacare is another issue that cannot be bargained away. Tempering the program’s rough edges might seem to be better than nothing, but only barely better than nothing. The federal takeover of the medical system was flawed in conception. Washington is telling tens of millions of Americans that they must buy insurance, what kind of policies they must purchase, and from whom they must buy coverage.
The program has dramatically increased the cost of health insurance. In time, Congress will feel forced to push down costs, with price controls and bureaucratic rationing. Innovation will suffer, with Americans dying needlessly from lack of new advances. The administration also has used its rules as a means of social control, forcing religious people to fund policies which cover contraception, sterilization and abortion.
It is impossible to compromise with such a system.
So, too, on the defense of Americans. Foreign policy need not be so complicated. Rather than try to rebuild failed nations and remake failed societies, the U.S. government should make clear that any attack on America will be met with speedy and devastating retaliation. It doesn’t much matter what the United Nations or other countries, even friendly ones, think. There is no compromise when it comes to the federal government fulfilling its most important and basic responsibility —- protecting the nation.
Of course, there are places where compromise is inevitable and justifiable. No president can impose his will on a recalcitrant Congress. Thus, if a president can only get half the budget cuts that he wants, better to pocket them and work anew the following year than to demand everything and get overridden. After all, he or she still is playing offense and moving the ball forward. This is achieving compromise in Democratic fashion, compromising on the speed an objective is reached, but never on the objective itself.
Americans have a momentous decision to make in the ongoing presidential campaign. The best presidents, like Ronald Reagan, were devoted both to principle and practice. They knew when to stand firm and when to deal. The country desperately needs to elect such a leader in November.