Thursday, 13 December 2012

GOP, Change your policies because they're wrong, not because you lost

E.J. Dionne's latest article in the WaPo involves a line of argument that I've heard a number of times since the election. That line of thinking goes something like this: Insofar as the Republicans haven't changed their positions since the election they're at worst failing their obligations as politicians and at best being thickheaded, unwise or imprudent. Because they lost they should change their minds and positions; even Ann Coulter is saying it. I should say up front that I find most of the GOP platform odious and I wish they'd change their positions on many things -- I think their policies and intransigence on the environment, (particularly global warming), taxation, government spending, foreign policy and civil liberties are dangerous and hurting America. But the reason they should change their policies isn't because they lost the election, it's because they're bad policies. Whether or not policies get you elected should be largely beside the point. We want our politicians to win because they've convinced people of the rightness of their positions, not win because they've simply adopted the positions they think people want to hear. We have a word for the latter, it's called pandering,  but pandering is exactly what people seem to expect the GOP to now do.

The obligation of someone running for office is to present his/her ideas to the electorate. If the candidate isn't elected we can conclude that the voters rejected those ideas or that the candidate failed to explain them clearly enough or that the voters didn't trust the candidate or some combination of these options. But it's not the case that it would also behoove the candidate to change his/her positions *because* the voters were disinclined to vote for them. In fact, wouldn't this be the most despicable candidate of all, i.e., the candidate who cares more about victory than principles? But the GOP and their critics are being remarkably transparent as to what they perceive as their obligations. For example, we suddenly see the GOP saying that they need to have a more tolerant policy on immigration. Not because their last one was morally repugnant or ill-conceived or economically counterproductive, but because they need to suck up to Latinos to get votes from them.

To be clear, none of this is to argue that the GOP has been a principled party coming into the election and that should remain on the high road. My only contention here is with the unspoken assumption  that a politician's first obligation isn't to have defensible ideals and a commitment to carefully thought out principles, but rather to winning and to rejecting any and all policies and practices that are unlikely to increase the odds of that.