Candidates issue conflicting statements
Posted: Thursday, July 15, 2010 10:03 pm
For those who did not attend, the Republican candidate forum at UTM on July 1 provided an opportunity to listen to the four candidates for the Tennessee 8th District of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Obion and Weakley local (Republican) parties deserve credit for organizing the event. Sadly, the public was not encouraged to attend, so the questions written by the party leadership were vague generalities.
In response, candidates presented their views mostly in campaign rhetoric and platitudes. Curiously, attendees were reminded forcefully at the opening that the gathering was an off-the-record event, as if the candidates should express their views but not be accountable for them.
Meeting each of the candidates afterwards I was favorably impressed at what nice people they are personally. I would be comfortable having any one as a neighbor. Given that, it was all the more striking during their presentations to hear the intolerant invective spilled out on anyone who did not share their political views, including their own party members.
Some of the positions taken by the candidates on Thursday conflicted with other statements they made the same night. Regarding jobs, for instance, our region cannot attract large numbers of jobs on one hand without bowing to special interests in the form of corporate industry.
Another curious conflict: it is odd to condemn “liberalism” out of hand while standing on an economic platform of classical liberalism, which is nothing more than a free-market economy.
One candidate loudly demanded the federal budget be cut ten percent across the board, but contradicted his own statement to a prior question, which had insisted that selected departments and programs covered under social contracts be immune from cuts. I am not quite sure how one could therefore cut “across the board.”
Another candidate protested vigorously about how he will ignore special interests, especially those beyond West Tennessee, perhaps forgetting that a national party organization is itself a special interest with a particular agenda.
It strikes me as silly that one can claim to ignore outside voices and independently represent West Tennessee, while beginning a campaign proudly coddled by prominent political figures sitting in Congress.
In a curious demonstration of ignorance, while praising the Constitution on one hand, and one occasionally waved a copy as well, in their eagerness to sustain one subordinate clause from the Second Amendment, not one of the four was able to grasp the idea that the Second Amendment does not apply beyond the borders of the United States.
Therefore, the Second Amendment has no relevance to U.S. foreign policy.
Finally, a candidate cannot claim to follow only the Constitution and yet deny the legislative branch of government its power and right to act under that Constitution to secure Constitutional rights, or advocate denying opposing viewpoints the privilege to participate.
Looking at national history as a whole, the last point is a historically and consistently conservative position, but it is inherently un-American as well.
Each candidate claimed repeatedly that sitting Representatives in the current Congress were unworthy to occupy their positions, a blanket statement that seemed to include fellow Republicans, but the only reason they gave was disagreement with the candidate’s personal agenda.
Most disturbing, there was no allowance for any thoughtful individual to have a different opinion, or different concerns or experience.
Each candidate claimed they would represent solely our district, but each one also claimed to be willing to work toward defeating another Representative in their district. Is that consistent? Is it even logical?
I would have thought that anyone who said that only West Tennessee voters should be allowed to choose their Representatives would expect to hold to the same principle for other districts.
One candidate went as far as to say that no one who did not hold to his politically extreme views should be allowed to be a Republican Party member.
Judging from audience response, the event on July 1 proved that if someone can take a stand on some point loudly enough, the various other parts of their position need not be logically consistent or even based on anything real.
Denouncing someone else’s ideas or actions “on principle” means that those actions can be dismissed without having to think about them or take too much effort to formulate real criticism.
If a candidate need not take the time to understand another person’s views, then they need not be bothered to treat the ideas fairly. Whether a self-proclaimed conservative or liberal, anyone who stands solely on principle in American politics conveniently denies anyone else the same privilege.
The candidates’ strident expressions about the natural rightness of their cause and the “evil,” Fincher’s and Kirkland’s common word, of opposing views—any opposing view—reflects arguments more consistent with European fascists of the Second World War than of American tradition.
In my experience with American politics, including years of detailed study toward a PhD in American history, I have gradually come to see that most public officials propose legislation and programs to repair an oversight left by social tradition, earlier oversights or design.
As much as it horrifies extremists on both the left and the right, differences of opinion are legitimate. None of the candidates acknowledged, even one-on-one, that the fundamental premise of the Constitution is compromise.
Thursday’s four-way retreat to the ideological fortress of right-wing rhetoric was a classic demonstration of what each candidate had loudly denounced as “wrong with America.” T
he ideological retreat to “principle” is a wholesale denial of the fundamental premise which the Founding Fathers enshrined in the Constitution. Philosophy is about principles, governance is about common ground. The Federalist Papers were a philosophical treatise, but the Constitution is an owner’s manual in the glove box of government.
The genius of the Constitution is that it provides a foundation for people of different viewpoints to work together. That’s a messy process, but it works.
“Integrity” was a word flung around the stage liberally on 1 July. Yet, no candidate showed integrity to the fundamental premise of the Constitution – that establishing one ideology in a broadly diverse nation is an exercise in tyranny, and that respecting opinions you might not agree with is key—even in party meetings.
None of the candidates showed the integrity to respect the current President, any member of the current Congress, or even voters in the Tennessee 8th district, to hold differing views.
Benjamin Franklin told a chilling joke at the signing of the Declaration that its signers would have to “hang together, or we will assuredly all hang separately.”
That is the genius of the Constitution, and an important measure for any candidate who expects to represent not merely the extreme wing of their party but The People as their constituents.
Closing the statements on Thursday, one candidate related a story about his son receiving a grade-school award for integrity.
Yet he himself failed the key public test of integrity—to be, if not politically moderate, then at least rhetorically civil. All four candidates seemed to confuse inflexibility for integrity.
I attended hoping to decide which of the four was best able to better the nation, not merely dominate it most totally.
I left the forum very disappointed.
Editorial written by Richard Saunders
Martin, republican candidate forum, Richard Saunders