Saturday, July 14, 2007

Politics and principles

Do politics and principles ever mesh? Are they inherently contradictory? Do they mix at all? Are some politicians actually able to blend them, or is that simply an illusion? My simplistic answer is that principles are what drive you and politics is simply the day to day tactics utilized to pursue those principles, but that is only true when your publicly-stated goals in fact match your privately-held principles. The problem for many or most politicians is that they first focus on political opportunity and then are forced to adopt goals that fit the politics and only then can they consider the extent to which their principles may or may not be compromised by their politics (political goals.)

I was reading an article in The Washington Post by Peter Baker entitled "Despite talk, Iraq shift unlikely anytime soon - Bush holds commanding position -- and votes -- in showdown over war" which quoted our "battered" President Bush as saying:

When it's all said and done ... if you ever come down and visit the old, tired me down there in Crawford, I will be able to say, 'I looked in the mirror and made decisions based upon principle, not based upon politics,' ... And that's important to me.

That's certainly a candid and probably honest assessment, but it begs a number of questions. What are his principles? Some people question whether he really has any or whether he's simply another unprincipled hack politician. I would question whether he is really speaking about deep moral principles or simply "strategic" aims that he has picked up over the years from a lot of people with extremist agendas who are continually whispering in his ear. And what does he really mean by the term "politics"? Is he really speaking of it in the common, general sense or in the antagonistic, disparaging, and unfortunately popular mode of characterizing one group's cherished beliefs as "principles" and every other opposing group's beliefs as mere "politics." In other words, maybe he is simply saying that when your "team" is losing, you stay loyal to "your" team even if the other team has much better prospects. Maybe simple, old-fashioned, Texan loyalty is his primary source of drive and solace.

Hmmm... he actually said "made decisions based upon principle" singular, not "made decisions based upon principles" plural. That is an interesting distinction, although it isn't possible to know if he really meant to draw that distinction or was simply speaking more than a bit too loosely. What might he have been referring to by "upon principle" (singular)? What principle? It sounds as if he's not even referring to "principle" in the moral sense at all and really is using it in the gamesmanship sense, the way a true Texan would fight to the death to protect his property and his friends and family.

That still leaves us contemplating this gap between President Bush's personal goals and his "team" goals and his responsibility to the American people.

The only thing that is crystal clear is that he will in fact he heading back down to his ranch, in just over 18 months.

-- Jack Krupansky


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