Rule of Law, Rule of Gut
June 25, 2010 Leave a comment
The BP oil spill has provided a chance to clearly delineate between two worldviews vying for our political discernment: the visions of the liberal Left and the conservative Right. In responding to Republican House representative Joe Barton’s double-apology gaffe, President Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said as much. And while Emanuel is correct in observing that two governing philosophies are at stake this November, it would be an error to take his class warfare bait. The choice is not between wise, compassionate Democrats and corrupt, cozy-with-big-business Republicans. To the contrary, this November is a chance to dump destructive Democratic impulses to rule from the gut, and empower a new, conservative Republican leadership that values rule based on law.
The rhetoric of emergency is the greatest pitfall of the Democrats’ liberal governing philosophy. In times of crisis like the BP oil spill, inflammatory rhetorical appeals come naturally to them. At the onset of the oil spill, Democratic strategist James Carville cried out “We’re dying here!” In a recent attempt to capitalize on Barton’s apology blunder, Vice President Joe Biden chided that “people are drowning.” As a tool of political persuasion, the appeal to emergency is dangerous. It preys on raw emotions, leading to the loosening of purse strings and easing the approval of impractical and downright harmful policies. Recall that appeals to emergency during the Great Depression ushered in the New Deal. Among the many blunders under the aegis of enlightened activism, the federal government paid farmers to wastefully slaughter their livestock, denying food to the hungry for the sake of stabilizing food prices.
Having lived through Bolshevik brutalism as well as America’s New Deal fiascos, Ayn Rand warned in her brilliant polemic Atlas Shrugged that appeals to emergency inevitably empower either unsavory autocrats or unreasoning incompetents. The Left’s Rule of Gut is all the more dangerous given their inscrutable devotion to the cult of the political savior. Whether as youth admiringly looking upon the iconic visage of revolutionary Che Guevara, or as older generations fondly recalling fireside-chatter FDR, Democrats and their Leftist base turn not to reasonable stewards of power, but at the gut level dream of charismatic, decisive deliverers of salvation. Perhaps it is only slightly more tragic for a banana republic to produce a Castro or Chavez than it is for the United States to beget a starry-eyed bungler like Carter or Obama.
What then stands as an antidote to the twin appeals of emergency and charismatic deliverance? Many people dismiss today’s conservative movement out-of-hand because they buy the idea that Republicans are beholden to big business and that conservatives are under the undue influence of social “wedge” issues. But while the political Left relies on emotional appeal to further a hazy end of “progress” shared by the political bedfellows of victimhood, American conservatives look to widely-established and long-standing traditions as the means to preserve national well-being. Broadly considered, these traditions share the spirit of and are inclusive of the Rule of Law.
The decisive factor in favor of conservatism may be the question of ends and means. Not only are the ends of the Left mistaken, the means of achieving their ends leave us vulnerable to the imperfections of alliance-wrangling. As Thomas Sowell effectively notes in Conflict of Visions, the ends are paramount to the Left, but the means are the key focus of conservatives. With an aim to preserving the integrity of process rather than seeking to guarantee a specific result outright, the conservative vision offers the greatest chance of behavioral accountability from our leaders. Conservative constituents demand fidelity to function, but liberal politicians, supposing a backdrop of knock-down, drag-out class war, must satisfy their constituents’ identity-based grievances by any means necessary. And more often then not, the sausage-making that begets vaunted progress for the Left is deleterious to the national interest.
Its a paradox that those on the Left, who seek change by Rule of Gut, will always remain unsatisfied by their side’s inability to effect the immediate gratification they seek. But we, whether at the election polls or in the course of day-to-day life, can avoid that frustration by choosing to live under the Rule of Law instead of the Rule of Gut.