A dime's difference

Republicans at least pretend to have an external standard

Issue: "Clergy Sexual Abuse," March 30, 2002

Nothing shuts your mouth faster about somebody else's outrageous behavior than to recall that you did that very same thing one time not so long ago. So it was with the contemptible action a couple of weeks ago by the Democrat-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee when they ham-handedly dead-ended the nomination of Charles Pickering to the Fifth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. The fact that Republicans, when they controlled the same committee toward the end of the last administration, did pretty much the same thing with several of Bill Clinton's nominees may prompt you to think you should just shut up and take it. Which is exactly what conservatives should not do. For such a response tends only to confirm the suspicion that grows inside us all that there isn't ultimately a dime's worth of difference between the major political parties and the dominant political philosophies. Granted, the evidence is everywhere that such a premise is true. Instead of provoking each other to good works, Republicans and Democrats seem mostly to learn each other's worst habits and worst values. All of which leaves us-as it did in the Pickering case-with a group of senior U.S. senators who act more like grade-schoolers shouting at each other, "He shoved me first!" So let's admit right up front that there's plenty about the Republican establishment that makes us want to run the other way:

  • For instance, there's the pork-barrel mentality that seems to marinate the brain of everyone we send to Washington. I more or less expect it of Democrats, whose party for three generations has promoted a "government-can-do-it-best" worldview. But when Trent Lott, the man Senate Republicans have chosen as their top guy, is also known as a top porker-shamelessly getting Uncle Sam to pay Mississippi shipyards to build big cruise ships that nobody wants-I want to run as fast as I can the other way. I have the same response when farm-belt politicians pile subsidy upon subsidy to create a mess that fails the sniff test worse than any barnyard you ever smelled.
  • If Republicans carry a reputation for favoring big business at the expense of the little guy, maybe it's a reputation they've earned. Case in point: Way too many Republican politicians have a tendency to back the big banks and credit-card companies in their deliberate campaign to lead millions of Americans into debt slavery. Anyone who defends such tactics on the basis of free-market opportunity hasn't read the repeated and clear references in the Bible to what God thinks about usury.
  • And so on.

Yet having said all that, there's a reason both this column and WORLD magazine are regularly criticized for tending to come down so consistently on the Republican rather than the Democratic side of so many issues. Because we're news gatherers and disseminators, we wince a bit when we first hear that charge. But because our journalistic calling is still secondary to our calling to promote God's standard for human behavior, we don't apologize for evaluating each week's happenings in light of God's revelation. No, we don't see the Republican Party as the special prophet of that revelation. But there remains a distinct difference these days between official Republican dogma and that of the Democrats. Republicans tend to make excuses for not living up to the lofty ideals nearly everybody agrees on, or to pretend that they are doing better than they are, when compared to God's standards. Democrats tend, on the other hand, to change the standards themselves. So, for example, Republicans don't tell the Democrats they're wrong for wanting us all to provide more help for the poor, or for protecting the rights of minorities. Republicans actually acknowledge such goals as good; they just pretend or make excuses for not always living up to them. But Democrats, on the other hand, more and more go out of their way to say that what society has always thought were God's standards are not applicable after all. So abortion has for them now become a good solution, homosexuality is noble, and the traditional family isn't necessarily a preferred unit of society. The distance between the two perspectives is profound. The one acknowledges a standard for society, while trying casually to slip by or slide around it. The other does away with the standard itself. It is indeed the traditionalists against the postmodernists. That's why the Democrats, in a context like the hearing for Charles Pickering, have to walk in such lockstep with and take their orders from the National Organization for Women, the National Education Association, and similar groups. There's not even a debate any longer among those folks about how far they can wander from the standard; there's no external standard to wander from. For Republicans, the standard tends still to be there-too often at a distance, and certainly with inadequate agreement on what it is and what it says-but still it's there. For more and more Democrats, the standard no longer even exists. You just make it up as you go along.

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Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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