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Come, Let Us Reason Together


There’s blood in the water and the Democrats are frenzied. They can taste victory in 2008 – overwhelming victory – and their growing arrogance is on full display. They believe they have the White House and a wider majority in both houses of Congress in their grasp; they believe they can make gains in state government. There’s a sense in the air that, in the back rooms of Washington, D.C., deals are being brokered for a division of power following the next inauguration.

The Republicans, on the other hand, are frantic. Any other year, the leading Democrats would have the GOP giddy, but the usually reliable values vote that went MIA during the mid-term elections has slipped into an even greater funk. The party faithful – namely the so-called religious right – are expressing a deep sense of betrayal at the government they elected, and the sort of en masse turnout that carried George W. Bush to the presidency in 2000 and 2004 won’t be available to the 2008 Republican nominee.

So, at a time when the nation and its government are in serious need of a reality check, of a re-evaluation of the values that guided us for more than two centuries, all we are getting is partisan politics as usual, jockeying for position and power well ahead of the election. The voices that have accused the Bush Administration of lying America into war and of championing a foreign policy driven by hubris instead of thoughtful diplomacy are creeping dangerously toward the same sin. This arrogance on the left is playing out in the form of serious infighting; there’s no need for debate or compromise when triumph is imminent.

One voice of reason has popped up in this political debate only to be shouted down, and it’s interesting to think about why. Earlier this year, Anne Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, penned a book entitled The Idea that is America. In it Slaughter, a left-of-center academician, identifies what she sees as America’s seven traditional guiding principles: liberty, democracy, equality, justice, tolerance, humility, and faith, and outlines an argument for putting those founding values back in our foreign and domestic policies to help solve today’s predicaments.

Slaughter makes the point that, even if we disagree on what those principles mean, by standing for such values we can better serve our own at home, and regain our flagging respect abroad. Political moderates and even some right-of-centrists have praised Slaughter’s book. I imagine, like me, they see her treatise as a breath of fresh air; a voice of reason in an increasingly unreasonable world.

The Idea

that Is


But in keeping with the Democrat’s aforementioned taste for power, the response from the far-left has been anything but warm. Liberal blog The DailyKos attacked Slaughter following an Op-Ed in the Washington Post premised on the book, while the American Prospect leveled criticism at Slaughter for suggesting we acknowledge such values at all.

In his TAP critique, Ezra Klein – a lefty blogger and journalist – seems to admire Slaughter, but his position is that we should not hew to a set of national values because the definitions are too changeable and open to manipulation, so the idea of values too often become the tools of propaganda. That seems to be Slaughter’s point, however: although President Bush has used words like faith and democracy to sell his policies, the policies themselves have not reflected those values. Slaughter believes we need to arrive at what those values mean as a nation, then put them into practice as one people.

Indeed, the fact that we have conducted our affairs at home and abroad for the last fifteen years without clear, identifiable American values is why we now find ourselves in a quandary overseas, without reliable allies willing to risk their own blood and treasure for a cause they can’t trust. Even where there’s agreement that terrorism must be confronted, for example, there’s disagreement over how we are conducting our mission, and fewer foreign leaders are willing to risk their political fortunes at home by aligning themselves with an increasingly unpopular United States.

So, what is it about Slaughter’s ideas that the lefties finds so odious? Is the argument that we should not pursue the ideals of liberty, democracy, and equality, as well as justice, tolerance, humility, and faith? I don’t think so. Rather, I see this as a reaction to the belief that, apart from tolerance, these are all values that the right has claimed (even if such claims have been forfeited by their recent actions), and the left remains grasping for its own set of distinctive values. It’s better to have nothing – and critique everything – than to accept that some of what the right has said about American politics and policy has merit.

And religion continues to bedevil the Democrats. We saw it in 2004 when Senator John Kerry failed to convince voters that he, too, was a man of faith. During the June 4 presidential debate a number of Democrats spoke of their personal faith; John Edwards went so far as to use the phrase “my Lord, Jesus Christ,” yet few seem to believe he is sincere.

Reading The Idea that is America, Slaughter addresses “faith” more universally, rather than from a specifically Judeo-Christian perspective, though there is much here for those who hold their moral values and faith dear. God, through the prophet Isaiah, said, “Come, let us reason together.” That was great advice then, and it’s great advice now. Slaughter’s is a rational book that makes a case for reasoned discourse, and reason is what we need in 2008.

When you start with values, you are more likely to end up with value. The Idea that is America is a good place to start.

Share  Posted by Mike Spinney at 8:16 PM | Permalink

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