Principle, expediency & the Republicans

A handful of GOP governors, including Jindal of Louisiana and Sanford of South Carolina, are taking a courageous stand against the stimulus. Pressed with the threat of amending welfare laws in their states for years to come and violating the principles of good governance made this nation great, these governors are refusing to accept funding for new unemployment benefits, much to the chagrin of their Democratic counterparts. "This to me is not about philosophical theory, [but] about real people who through no fault of their own, are laid off because of a recession," argued Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm on "FOX News Sunday" this past weekend.

Apparently Republican stances, based largely on core beliefs but even transcending them into the realm of good governance, particularly the issue of the dangers it sets for future welfare programs in their states, are inappropriate in a time of “crisis.”

This, Governor Granholm, isn’t just about philosophical theory, though that is certainly important. It is also about the people—“real people.” Consider: Three years from now, when federal funding dries up and the states are stuck with these laws, how are higher taxes to make up the difference going to help the people? When Dick and Jane decide to stay on welfare for five years instead of two, how is that helping to get them moving and making better lives for themselves, their family and their community?

The answer is, it’s not. Principles may be driving these stands, but underlying each principled governor is justified concern for the future of their state. They’re doing what leaders should be doing: looking toward the impact of their present decisions on the future, not just the effect of those decisions on the now.

Of course, while America’s greatest national interest has been at stake—its security—the Democrats had no problem crying “principle” and putting “philosophical theory” over effective interrogation procedures. But when their own political interests in appearing to be strong, firm leaders are being threatened, and their own agendas to expand government in unprecedented ways are on the line, they have no problem throwing principle out the window.

Terrorism is a different issue; most of the actions that were taken on the part of U.S. interrogators were not, in actuality, torture. Contrary to popular misconception, waterboarding has only been used three times—and in each of those three times it worked, and innumerable lives were saved. Early on some cases were questionable, such as Abu Graihb and early Guantanamo Bay practices, but by and large principle did guide the nation’s interrogation policy.

On the issue of warrantless wiretapping, the government was not wiretapping every phone in America without a warrant, converse to ACLU misinformation. Rather, if Abdul’s conversations are being monitored in Pakistan and he calls Ahmed in the United States, is the government supposed to put down the phone and say, “Oops, American citizen?” Of course not, and that’s what the policy ensured. Yet the Democrats made a big fuss about how this violated the “rights of the citizen.” They cried “principle,” yet none were actually violated.

But now the tide has turned and the Democrats are the one whose policies are being challenged. Their reckless willingness to throw up their hands and truly abandon our ideals is troublesome at best. If we can just casually say, whenever a new crisis arises, that principle is irrelevant, what will we have left? Can we pick and choose when to let core beliefs be our guide and when to ignore them?

Far too many leaders have given the same argument—we’re in a crisis, so let’s set aside our core beliefs. Such is the true test of leadership. Will our leaders stand by those convictions in troubled times, or will they set them aside because of the perceived ease in doing so?

If we refuse to allow our conscience of principle to be our guide in crisis, instead only permitting its surface in pleasant times, our ideals are rendered meaningless.

Thomas Jefferson’s statement that his “reading of history convinces [him] that most bad government results from too much government” no longer holds any meaning for the Democrats, as well as Republicans like Governors Charlie Crist and Arnold Schwarzenegger. That is, if it ever has.

“The spirit of resistance to government,” Jefferson once said, “is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive.”

One can only hope that more governors will have the courage to stand up and resist the temptation to cede more power and authority to government. The future of this country may depend on it.