Commentary Magazine


Don't Confuse Principle and Pose

To the Editor:

How readily does Matthew Continetti use the invective of the left [“Poseur Politics in the Era of Obama,” February]. The Republicans “have become little more than the Party of No.” They must eschew “poses of purity and righteousness” and “the pose of conservative purity.” They adopt such poses, apparently, when they refuse to bend to the demand for tax increases.

But the implication of insincerity (this is all merely a “pose”) is gratuitous. In attacking Representative Tim Huelskamp, for example, Mr. Continetti simply distorts the meaning of the congressman’s words, even as he quotes them. Huelskamp didn’t say that he refused to vote for a tax increase on millionaires because he feared a primary challenge. He said that he took such a position because he feared he would “deserve primary opposition.” He would deserve it because he told the voters who chose him—those who bestowed upon him his title and power—that he would not support tax increases.

We may well agree that a legislator owes his constituents his best judgment of the public interest. He is not there to be a cipher, reflecting the changing moods and opinions of the people. The conservative political philosopher Edmund Burke made this point time and again. But that does not absolve the legislator who as candidate proclaims his convictions (his perception of the public good) to be one thing and then does the opposite to please his party’s leaders. Does Mr. Continetti really abjure politicians who say things insincerely—who strike poses? No, it rather seems that he wants politicians to be opportunists, telling the voters whatever will win their votes and then blowing with the prevailing winds once in Washington. It is a man such as Tim Huelskamp, who says what he means when running for office and sticks to it once elected, who contemplates no pose, whom Mr. Continetti condemns.

Mr. Continetti claims to speak in the name of prudence—getting the best deal possible given the adverse numbers in Congress, raising taxes on the few to keep them constant for the many, recognizing the impossibility of the Republicans dramatically affecting policy with control of only the House of Representatives. He does not seem to allow for the role of rhetoric—the belligerent rhetoric used by the Democrats—in influencing public opinion. And he has an abiding confidence that the eminences in Washington perceive the public interest better than the indigenous yokels of Kansas do. Furthermore, he contrasts prudence with nobility (“noble but purposeless stands”).

Does prudence really supplant nobility? We hope not, since courage, including political courage, is noble. Mr. Continetti, in effect, wants the Republicans to dispense with political courage—the willingness to do that for which they will be attacked by the Democrats and their media allies—in the name of facing the facts. Yet he ignores the relentless effort by the current president and Democratic congressional leadership to undermine our Constitution.

Showdowns like the one over taxes are political at least as much as economic events. Obama’s crowing about Republican inconstancy reflects that. You can resist with one house of Congress (the Democrats confronted George W. Bush well enough in 2005 and 2006, controlling neither house), but if you don’t, you needn’t hope at the next election to garner even the votes necessary to hold what you have.

Peter Nichols
Morristown, New Jersey




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