Two distinct events. First, Indiana Republicans will go to the polls tomorrow to decide whether to make Sen. Richard Lugar, who has been a Capitol Hill fixture for 35 years, their candidate for a new six-year term. Second, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam last Thursday vetoed a bill that would cut off some $24 million in state aid to Vanderbilt if the university persists in its plan to force student religious groups to allow anyone, believer or not, into organizational leadership.
The common denominator is that Lugar and Haslam have both received praise for acting in thoughtful ways. The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan on Friday offered "The Case for Dick Lugar." She called Lugar "sober and responsible. … Right now, and more than ever, we need mature folk involved in our governance. … There is value in the ability to take the long view, and do your best with modesty."
Meanwhile, The Chattanoogan.com's David Tulis praised Haslam for adhering "to a philosophy of limited government and a reluctance to use even the most well-intentioned power of the state to overwhelm a private institution's government and to dictate terms." Haslam said he disagrees with Vanderbilt's policy and approved of the legislature directing state universities but not private ones. Even though liberals try to control private institutions that receive some taxpayer funds, Haslam contended, conservatives should not do the same.
Some conservatives disagree. Noonan noted the GOP's "growing sense that for 40 years, members of the party have sent Republicans to Washington and Washington-its spending, its regulating, its demands-keeps getting worse, not better." Our human tendency is to fight fire with fire: When the left keeps pushing for more and more, we wonder whether Lugar-like politeness in the Senate amounts to unilateral disarmament.
I don't have a recommendation for Indiana voters, but I do ask a strategic question: Do liberals keep increasing state power because they know that if gentlemanly conservatives are in charge the increased power will not be used against them? Maybe so, but it still seems to me that conservatives should not act against principle and grow government even when we might gain a temporary tactical advantage.
Tulis appropriately quoted John Calvin: "When tyrants reign, let us first remember our faults, which are chastised by such scourges; and, therefore, humility will restrain our impatience." That makes sense to me, but I'd also welcome readers' opinions on this, as I think about a possible future column in WORLD.