Too much principle

Ross Douthat reveals the intrinsic and incoherent dislike for principle harbored by the pragmatic Republican:

Like many outside-the-box thinkers, they’re good at applying their principles more consistently than your average partisan, but lousy at knowing when to stop. (Hence the tendency to see civil rights legislation as just another unjustified expansion of federal power.) And like many self-conscious iconoclasts, they tend to drift in ever-more extreme directions, reveling in political incorrectness even as they leave common sense and common decency behind.

It isn’t surprising that two of the most interesting “paleo” writers of the last few decades, [Samuel] Francis and Joseph Sobran, ended their careers way out on the racist or anti-Semitic fringe. It isn’t a coincidence that the most successful “paleo” presidential candidate, Pat Buchanan, opposes not only America’s interventions in Iraq, but the West’s involvement in World War II as well. It isn’t surprising that Ron Paul kept company in the 1990s with acolytes who attached his name to bigoted pamphleteering.

And it shouldn’t come as a shock that his son found himself publicly undone, in what should have been his moment of triumph, because he was too proud to acknowledge the limits of ideology, and to admit that a principle can be pushed too far.

Douthat is correct to say that Rand Paul could have and should have avoided a discussion of the merits of a 46 year-old law. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 isn’t on any libertarian’s top 10 list of Federal actions that require overturning. In fact, it probably isn’t even on anyone’s top 25 list. But Douthat’s criticism of Paul’s principles naturally leads to the question of how much principle is too much? How much good is too good? And precisely how much principle should be, ideally, be cast aside in order to reach an optimum balance between principle and pragmatism? The illogic stems from ignorance; Douthat has clearly never stopped to think that the civil rights act, however justifiable, was in fact an expansion of central state power with all of the long-term danger that presents. He obviously has never thought about World War II in a critical manner, viewing it instead as a mystic and hallowed event that is beyond question. And he adroitly skips over the fact that the only reason Francis and Roberts ended up on what he calls a “fringe”, despite the fact that their views are far more popular in the mainstream public than those of their neo-conservative foes, is because they were exiled by the neocons after their successful conquest of the conservative media’s high ground.

Rand Paul is hardly “undone”, no matter how much Douthat and the other faux conservatives in the Republican Party would like to believe he is a political dead letter. The America of 2010 simply doesn’t view the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the same manner that the America of 1980 did. The liberal white guilt that fueled the civil rights of the 1960s and diversity of the 1990s is all but dead, having been slain by the Vibrant Society, and besides, what does a Mexican or Somali immigrant care about 18th, 19th, or even 20th century American history anyhow.

It is, of course, entirely possible that Americans have ideologically devolved to the point that they are simply too unprincipled to elect principled politicians, in which case it doesn’t matter whether men like Rand Paul are elected or not. Because an unprincipled electorate will fully merit the fate that appears to be in store for them.