Outrageous. It is simply outrageous that politicians are approaching questions of policy on pragmatic — i.e. how can it benefit me politically — grounds, rather than their underlying principles. None of us is surprised by it. We all expect it, and too often, have come to tolerate it. The problem is, when we tolerate this “path of least resistance” in our leaders, we swell their ranks with a lesser-quality representative. And, when we really need leadership, looking around, all we find is the mess we see today.
Most big political problems come from the fact that people who allegedly represent our interests when we elect them are far more committed to their own. Tired old campaign slogans are bandied about to woo us, and we fall for it again this time, because — horror of horrors, we can’t let the other guy get in. We pull the lever only to learn that those we had confidence in have long since traded their moral compass for a weathervane.
And then, when hard decisions must be made, whether from the governing party, or the opposition, these alleged leaders check the wind, compromise their principles, or give away the store. Why? Oblivious to the irony, they tell us, “it’s the only way we can live to fight another day.”
Really? The problem with “living to fight another day” is its tendency to become cyclical. When “tomorrow’s battle” is the justification for ducking today’s fight, it becomes justification for ducking tomorrow’s fight, too. Then one day, you retire, and the electorate realizes that you sat on the sidelines and collected your 30 pieces of silver while the public’s interests were sold off one by one.
Guiding principles are very important and useful things. They are the carpenter’s square of politics. You need some way of judging whether what you are building is of good quality, and similarly whether laws you are passing will strengthen or undercut the principles you claim to be defending.
Why? Because guiding principles are not whimsey. They will not wither under mockery, they will not apologize for being unpopular. They do not care whether people are offended by them. They do not change with the fashions of day. And these characteristics are rooted in the fact that they are, indeed, overarching principles. Because they are principles, they are not easily discarded, and if they are, they are only discarded in favour of better and stronger principles.
They are also useful for the public to measure the policies of their elected officials. They let you call up the office of whoever you elected and ask the right questions. Example: “please explain to me how the new law you are proposing is in line with your previous commitment to (principle x).”
For example, what were Eric Holder’s guiding principles in April 2013? First, he claimed that amnesty for illegal immigrants is a civil right and second, he personally lead the charge for the expulsion of the Romeikes family despite their successful application for American political asylum. Holder should be made to explain why he can hold seemingly opposing views.
What about the migrants who have spent 3 months locked up in jail because they are in legal limbo? Do you know this story? Six hispanic migrants are being held for entering the country illegally. In the same article, another nineteen (also hispanic) are being held in a “migration lockup”. The official policy on the books is deportation to country of origin.