Policies, Parties, and Persons

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Millions of Texans—perhaps even a majority of those who have all along intended to vote—have already cast their ballots during the early voting period.  But for those who intend to vote this upcoming Tuesday, as well as for future reference, I offer the following thoughts.

I recently participated in a student-faculty debate on who should win this year’s U. S. Senate race—Ted Cruz or Beto O’Rourke.  Naturally, my student partner and I advocated for Cruz while a colleague and his student partner supported O’Rourke.  In the course of our program, the moderator noted that my team was arguing that Cruz’s policies were better, while our opponents were emphasizing O’Rourke’s personal traits and conduct.  He asked how we prioritized the factors which determine our choice of candidates.  I said, I put policies first, party second, and person third—especially for congressional candidates.  At the risk of misrepresenting the views of my opponents, my recollection, subject to correction, is that they placed more emphasis on O’Rourke’s personal temperament and his stated desire to increase civility in politics and government.

There have always been some distinctions between policies advocated by the Republican Party and those supported by the Democrats.  But these policy differences have become even sharper in recent years.  Which party’s policies are enacted will make a major difference in America’s future.  How important it is to support the “right” mix of policies, compared to electing candidates of the right temperament, may be debatable, but policy preferences—whether to be pro-life or pro-choice, whether to support more or fewer restrictions on gun ownership, whether to have higher or lower taxes or more or less spending, whether to welcome or repel immigrants, etc., etc– strike me, at least, as very important.

Also, of far greater importance than is frequently discussed, is the importance of party as an organizing principle of government.  The party with the majority in each chamber of Congress—no matter how small that majority may be–wins enormous power.  It wins the most important leadership positions in each chamber (Senate Majority Leadership and House Speakership), as well as majorities on almost all committees, and all committee and subcommittee chairmanships.  Mitch McConnell used his power as majority leader of the Senate to block President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court and push through President Trump’s nominations of Judges Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.  Both McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan were able to schedule successful votes on many of President Trump’s bills.  Should the Democrats take control of either chamber, the Democratic leader(s) will no doubt block President Trump’s legislative agenda for the remaining two years of his term.  A Senate run by Chuck Schumer will block his judicial appointments.  A House run by Speaker Nancy Pelosi will, at least, launch numerous and never-ending investigations of the Trump Administration; it may well impeach President Trump as well as Justice Kavanaugh, and possibly even Justice Clarence Thomas.

Less obvious, but no less important, is the role of party in organizing the executive and judicial branches of government.  Most cabinet and subcabinet positions go to members of the President’s party, as do most judgeships as well.  It’s no coincidence that both Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh were prominent Republicans, while the appointees of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were all Democrats.  Nor is it coincidental that the last four Chief Justices of the United States were former Republican activists appointed by Republican Presidents (President Harry Truman, the last Democratic president to appoint a Chief Justice, gave the position to Fred Vinson, a prominent Democratic activist, Truman ally, and poker-playing pal).  None of this is to deny that presidents also consider ability, integrity, and experience in making their selections, but party counts too, and one who supports a party’s policies should support the elevation, whether by election or appointment, of its members to positions of power.

But understanding the importance of policy and party before person should not blind one to the fact that the person has an irreducible importance and that to destroy a person in the name of policy and party is obscene and immoral.  We saw two near-perfect examples recently in the fight to confirm Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court.  The Democrats had every reason to fear, and the Republicans every reason to hope, that putting Judge Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court would make its future rulings more conservative, and to oppose or support an appointee on philosophical or party grounds is by no means out of bounds.  But to try to destroy Brett Kavanaugh with unsubstantiated charges of rape, attempted rape, and sexual perversion, and to use or abuse Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as one of the tools by which to do so after she had requested anonymity and a quiet behind-the-scenes-investigation, did immense damage to two otherwise decent persons.  President Trump’s use of demeaning nicknames and other forms of humiliation against his foes, whether Democratic or Republican, is also outside the bounds of common decency.  Whatever policies or party we prefer, we should reject the principle that the ends justify the means, and accept that “right” policy preferences do not justify smearing or other forms of the politics of personal destruction.  There is no greater lie than to say “Nothing personal.”  We are all persons.  Whatever we do to others, and whatever is done to us, can only be personal.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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