There is a scene in Mel Gibson’s "Braveheart" (what terrible timing to fondly recall a Mel Gibson movie) that summarizes the problem with politicians. Hearing of William Wallace’s rebellion in the Scottish Highlands, an inspired Robert the Bruce Jr. comes to tell his leper father (looking very much like Raiders’ owner Al Davis) the news. Thinking strategically, practically, politically, Robert the Bruce Sr. explains to his son:
You admire this man, this William Wallace. Uncompromising men are easy to admire. He has courage, so does a dog. But it is exactly the ability to compromise that makes a man noble!
I cannot revere compromise; I cannot revere pragmatism; I long for ideologues...and there are not enough in the American political system. An ideologue is a devoted proponent of a consistent set of ideas. He may be a libertarian, a communist, a socialist, or a capitalist. You may disagree with him, but you will know what you are disagreeing with.
An ideologue does not bend to what is popular, what will gain him power, or what is practical. He simply does what he thinks is right. Here – in my opinion – is the ideological purity of some of America’s political leaders.
THE MODEL IDEOLOGUE
Barry Goldwater (former Republican Senator from Arizona)
Barry Goldwater authored what should be the ideologue’s creed in his acceptance speech as the Republican nominee for president in 1963:
I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
Goldwater voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act knowing he’d be called a racist. When social conservatives and economic conservatives were forever wed in the 1970s, Goldwater was the only one to yell “I do!” when the preacher asked if anyone opposed this marriage. Goldwater did and said these things despite how impractical they were, despite the risk to his political career. He did these things because he believed in personal freedom. He said these things because it was right.
Critics reading this right now are saying, and have always said, “yeah, but Goldwater lost a presidential campaign in the biggest landslide in history.” My response…so?
LEVEL 1 – THE AYN RAND ALL-STARS: UNCOMPROMISING IDEOLOGUES
William Wallace: Here are Scotland’s terms. Lower your flags, and march straight back to England, stopping at every home to beg forgiveness for 100 years of theft, rape, and murder. Do that and your men shall live. Do it not, and every one of you will die today.
English General: You are outmatched. You have no heavy cavalry. In two centuries no army has won without–.
William Wallace: I’m not finished. Before we let you leave, your commander must cross that field, present himself before this army, put his head between his legs, and kiss his own arse.
Ron Paul (Republican Congressman from Texas)
Ron Paul joins Barney Frank in an effort to bring American troops home from Afghanistan, Japan (?), Germany (!), and Korea (@##%!). Ron Paul joins Alan Grayson in sponsoring a bill to audit the Fed. Ron Paul wants to end the entitlement state, abolish the income tax, opposes the War on Drugs, is pro-life, is a fan of Hayek, von Mises, Friedman, and Rothbard, and is a huge defender of the Constitution. In short…Ron Paul is consistent. He is a consistent defender of individual liberty to the detriment of his electability. And yet, he keeps getting elected and winning supporters. (Hmmm….maybe this ideologue thing can work?)
Ron Paul is also called crazy. Then again…Pythagoras, Michelangelo, Thomas Jefferson, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan were also called crazy. Then again, again…Kim Jong Il is also called crazy. I’m just saying. Maybe all this crazy calling isn’t that insightful.
Bernie Sanders (Independent Senator from Vermont)
Although he runs as an independent and caucuses with the Democrats, Senator Sanders is a socialist/Social Democrat who openly pines for European social democracy. Bravo to him for saying what he truly believes as opposed to so many other Democrats.
Gary Johnson (former Republican Governor of New Mexico)
Perhaps no political position is more impractical and less popular than to say what so few others will admit: that the War on Drugs is an expensive bust. Johnson is an ideologically consistent conservative-libertarian and won two terms as governor in largely Democratic New Mexico. He is said to be considering a 2012 presidential run. (Hmmmm…maybe this ideologue stuff can work.)
Jim DeMint (Republican Senator from South Carolina)
The South Carolina senator is the Martin Luther of the Republican Party, driving a reformation of ideological purity. While the Republican establishment is busy picking people they think can win elections (Charlie Crist, Trey Grayson), DeMint finds and backs people who should win elections (Marco Rubio, Rand Paul).
LEVEL 2 – THE STUDENTS OF RAND PAUL: HIDE WHO YOU ARE JUST A LITTLE BIT
William Wallace: Fight and you may die. Run and you’ll live… at least awhile. And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here as young men and tell our enemies that they may take our lives but they will never takeour freedom!
Chris Christie (Republican Governor of New Jersey)
The Republican governor and YouTube sensation went into the Democratic swampland of New Jersey and impractically told the teachers unions to stick it, took the anti-populist tact of explaining ideological divides to reporters (this is must watch material if you haven’t seen it), and managed to sign into law a balanced state budget that cut government spending. (Hmmm…maybe this ideologue stuff can work.)
Barney Frank (Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts)
Congressman Barney Frank is out-of-the-closet in almost every way – which is a compliment. But moments like this make you wonder how often he’s hiding where he really wants to take this country.
Barack Obama (Democratic President of the United States aka POTUS)
The hardcore ideological left sees that he sacrificed the public option in the health care reform bill and has failed to move cap-and-trade forward as a sign that he’s a pragmatist. Still, President Obama has ushered in the biggest expansion of federal government since LBJ, hired faaaaaaaaaar fewer cabinet members with private sector experience than any president in 100 years, and wants to spread the wealth around.
I think Obama is an ideologue (a compliment in the context of this article), I think Obama is some form of socialist, and I think the debate is what kind of socialist?
Nancy Pelosi (Democratic Speaker of the House)
Pelosi has to be a little practical in order to strong arm something out of Congress. But do you have any doubt that DuPont Circle would be renamed Red Circle if she had complete authoritarian control. I think the nervous, interrupting herself, stream-of-consciousness press conference announcement would go something like this:
“Understand – and I don’t know how this could be misunderstood – ummm – that the Republicans again – and I like the color red – the Republicans again have shown to be the Party of No – I wish I could blink – ummm – it’s a warm color – ummm – the people want us to get something done – and, I, I, I, I, – besides, DuPont was French – so, in a time when the private sector – or, or, or, had a French name – my hair is in my face – which it was the Bush administration that renamed Freedom Fries – so everyone will go slower or maybe come to a stop knowing that there won’t be a green light – my hair is in my face – we, we, we, it’s not about Lenin – but we won’t be slaves to Wall Street – so they are again saying ‘no’ – but now they are against red – which I am most certainly not.”
Paul Ryan (Republican Congressman from Wisconsin)
Unlike so many other conservative politicians, Paul Ryan doesn’t duck from answering questions about the reality of our entitlement problem. Ryan doesn’t only provide answers to how we solve the Social Security/Medicare Ponzi scheme on TV shows; he puts forward actual, workable plans: Paul Ryan’s Roadmap. He does this despite the fear of losing the Old Fogey vote. He puts these solutions out there despite the fact that they are totally, impossibly, impractical during an age of Democratic-controlled government.
P.S. – Ryan has held these strong ideological positions in a moderate district in Wisconsin that has voted Democratic more than Republican over the last 50 years. (Hmmmm…maybe this ideologue stuff can work?)
LEVEL 3 – THE MONTY HALL LET’S MAKE A DEALERS: PRAGMATIC POLITICANS (two examples, but most of Washington can claim to be one of these compromisers)
Scottish soldier: The nobles will negotiate. They’ll do a deal. Then we’ll go home.
John Cornyn (Republican Senator from Texas)
As soon as the ideological fight of our time – Obamacare – was lost, Cornyn was asked if he would support a repeal effort. The Republican Texas senator said, “There is non-controversial stuff here like the preexisting conditions exclusion and those sorts of things. Now we are not interested in repealing that. And that is frankly a distraction.” The preexisting condition clause (!) – kind of the lynchpin of the whole deal.
Evan Bayh (Democratic Senator from Indiana)
The Illinois senator quit because too many people in Congress actually believed in something. Bayh is the posterboy for the modern-day fetish of whining over the lack of bipartisanship.
LEVEL 4 – THE DANIEL WEBSTER POPULISTS: TELL ‘EM WHAT THEY WANT TO HEAR
Longshanks: The trouble with Scotland is that it is full of Scots.
John McCain (Republican Senator from Arizona)
If there were a hit pop/populist song about controlling government spending the chorus would be about waste, fraud, earmarks and pork. John McCain ran an entire presidential campaign around those catch words. While waste and fraud are offensive and should be ended, anyone who sings this song instead of entitlement reform is the Britney Spears of politics. McCain’s latest populist hit, “Complete the Dang Fence” is one he should’ve been singing years ago. Don’t worry John, “you’re one of us.”
Sarah Palin (former Republican Governor of Alaska)
This will make me a pariah – which shows how good of a populist she is – but if Palin really stood for something, how could she stand with McCain? Honestly, if the majority of the Republican electorate wanted to bomb France because too many French men wear Velcro sneakers with little-to-no soles , wouldn’t Palin be on Facebook advocating for such action because men wearing feminized footwear marks a serious decline in civilization? (Then again…would she be wrong?)
LEVEL 5 – THE AL DAVIS “JUST WIN BABY” ALL-STARS
William Wallace: A lordship and titles. Gold. That I should become Judas?
Princess Isabella: Peace is made in such ways.
William Wallace: Slaves are made in such ways.
Arlen Specter (Democratic Senator from Pennsylvania)
It’s a shame Arlen Specter is leaving the political stage (pause a moment…wonder…is he really gone?). Arlen Specter is the caricature you had drawn at Six Flags that reveals the true asymmetrical flaws in your face. Arlen Specter is the exaggeration, the stereotype that hints at the truth. Arlen Specter reveals to you what most politicians really want … to just win baby.
When Arlen Specter graduated magna cum laude from the Al Davis “Just Win Baby” Academy for Politicians he took one lesson to heart, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” When Specter saw that all the cool people had voted for Obama and a newly Democratic Senate and House, he too became a Democrat (after running as a Republican for 44 years). Specter says that he didn’t move to the left, the Republican Party moved to his right. But how does that explain the szchizophrenic argument that Republican Arlen Specter has had with the Democrat Arlen Specter?
Republican Arlen Specter: opposes Dawn Johnson as an appointee to the Justice Department, voted against Elena Kagan as a nominee to the Solicitor General’s office, opposed the pro-union card check law.
Democrat Arlen Specter: votes for Dawn Johnson, appears to support Elena Kagan as a nominee to the Supreme Court, is open to the pro-union card check law.
It’s possible that Specter is more stupid than unprincipled. He voted in favor of John Roberts' and Samuel Alito’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and also voted for Sonia Sotomayor’s and (probably) Elena Kagan’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. Roberts and Alito hold completely incompatible views with Sotomayor and Kagan on the role of the Supreme Court.
All of this unprincipled moderation, flip-flopping, and party-switching finally seems to have caught up with Specter as he lost to Joe Sestak in a Democratic primary in May. But are you 100% certain that we have seen the last of Specter? Is he really gone? Is Al Davis? Are they the same person?
Will Cain is a conservative writer and commentator
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