Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Political Litmus Tests are a Bad Idea, Unless You're Acidic!

On the heels of some unbelievable election success by Republicans over the last several months, including the Governorships of New Jersey, Virginia and the earth tremor election for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts (I think the tremor was Kennedy rolling over in his “resting place”), there are those within the RNC that propose establishing a “qualifications list” of ten issues (referred to as the “Reagan Unity Principle”) for Republican candidates seeking financial support from the RNC.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love for every candidate running as a Republican to agree with me on every issue! I too am frustrated with Republicans in Name Only, who do not vote and act in accordance with our values and ideals. With two faced politicians who say one thing at home and act the opposite in office.

Do I agree with the ten issues written into a resolution for our vote this week? Sure… at least I think I do… but what would someone else think about my stand on those issues? How would they determine what I truly believe?

You see, even though there is general agreement that these issues are important and even fundamental to the Republican Party, (all of which can be found in some form in the excellent National Republican Party Platform), and though the practice of deciding who has adhered to or believes in these principles as a condition of RNC financial assistance sounds good in theory, in practice it is a disaster waiting to happen.

I believe the discussion of these issues are important, they are the soul of the party, it’s what we believe, its why people affiliate together with like minded people who share the same values. My hat is off to those who propose this resolution because it means that people within the party are interested in the fundamentals of our ideology and after all, what we believe is what separates us from the other guys. It’s why we are Republicans.

Here is the problem, a litmus test (and make no mistake, this resolution is a litmus test) by definition is an empirical test. Litmus paper is dipped into a solution to test the acidity or alkalinity of the solution. You can determine whether the solution is acid or alkaline and even determine how acidic or alkaline the solution is. Simple. Empirical.

Unfortunately, people don’t work that way, (Though if we could test a candidate’s acidity it might help us to avoid electing some bad apples!). You can’t dip a list of issues into the heart and soul of a candidate (not even a voting record or list of policy statements) and empirically determine the candidate’s relative conservativeness or how they will vote. Though past actions and statements may be an indicator of a person’s character it is no guarantee of future performance. (I really wanted to use the analogy of dipping a candidate into a list of issues – visually it makes a better picture – but the analogy wouldn’t have been as consistent.)

Problem #1: Arbitrary Standard
The resolution requires that a candidate comply with 8 out of 10 of the enumerated issues. Why eight? When I went to school 7 out of 10 was a passing grade. Why not 6 of 10? At least the candidate agrees with most of the issues. Why not 10 out of 10? Shouldn’t we want the purest of the pure represent us? The fact is 8 of 10 is an arbitrary number that cannot be justified universally or empirically.

Problem #2: Weighted Average
To be totally fair, shouldn’t we weight each of the 10 issues? Surely, each of the issues does not have the same level importance to each person in the party. In fact, I would dare say there are members of the committee and other good Republicans that could allow for less than 8 out 10 issues as long as it wasn’t one of their “sacred cows”, such as abortion.

Problem #3: Judge vs. Judgment
On these 10 issues, there are shades of agreement. What if the candidate says he is anti-abortion, but also believes that abortion should be allowed in the case of rape or incest? Does the candidate qualify? What if they also believe it is permissible under cases of grave fetal deformity or the health or life of the mother? Who decides what does and does not comply with the issue of sanctity of life for each candidate?

What about immigration? What if the candidate believes in controlling the border but also thinks there needs to be a guest worker program? Who decides what nuance and what sub-topic qualifies or disqualifies a candidate? The answer is and should be the constituents who elect them. The voter is the judge when it comes to candidates. Only they individually and collectively can “cast the first stone” or “forgive” the lack of purity of a candidate, because that is what they are tasked to do.

Asking the RNC Chairman to specifically apply an arbitrary litmus test to candidates sets him up to be unduly criticized by those looking for an excuse to do so and does not allow him to exercise his judgment, which is what we elect our chairman to do. Good judgment is the wise use of all available information in making a decision. The chairman, with his team, should be able to determine, based on all the facts on the ground, who should receive resources the party has acquired; resources obtained for the express purpose of electing Republicans.

Problem #4: Sacrifice Good
Would we prefer to give away an election to a bona fide Pelosi/Reid liberal because we are not willing to support a good Republican that “qualifies” on only 7 of 10 issues? That would be ridiculous. Of course I would want to elect that candidate over a liberal Democrat. Does it bother me that a Republican candidate does not agree with me on 10 out of 10 issues? Not if the opposition to our candidate agrees with me on 0 out 10 issues! (Which are mostly liberal, progressive, Democrats!) Come on folks, I don’t want to shoot the race horse that wins a majority of his races. Neither do we want to give away seats to those who would by philosophy enlarge government and inject it more into our lives. We call them Democrats, liberals, and progressives. As my momma used to say, “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face!” This resolution if established as policy would do just that.

Bottom-line… don’t tie the Chairman’s hands, don’t create new opportunities for discord, and don’t establish a litmus test. And, do what Ronald Reagan really preached in his eleventh commandment, “thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican”, (at least not to the media).


Robert Wren said...

It looks like the final resolution says about the same thing - without specifics - and will probably have little actual affect as is the case with most resolution. (Utah's BYLAW and candidate disclosure is virtually ignored.)

I think this was a positive attempt in at least raising the issue(s). Hopefully we can get a few more candidates who have at least READ the RNC platform.

The passed resolution:

RESOLVED, that the Republican National Committee urges its leadership and the leadership of all Republican organizations to carefully screen the record and statements of all candidates who profess to be Republicans and who desire the support of Republican leaders and Republicans organizations, and determine that they wholeheartedly support the core principles and positions of the Republican Party as expressed in the Platform of the Republican Party adopted at the 2008 National Convention; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Republican National Committee urges that no support, financial or otherwise, be given to candidates who clearly do not support the core principles and positions of the Republican Party as expressed in the Platform of the Republican Party adopted in the 2008 National Convention.

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