There’s a discussion going on at The Reality-Based Community about Douglas Kmiec’s endorsement of Barack Obama, in which I think the participants (perhaps because they are reality-based) dance around the more important meaning of Kmiec’s “As a Republican” catchphrase.
Mark Kleiman summarizes:
Mike O’Hare thinks that Kmiec has has reasoning backward: from loyalties to principles, rather than the other way around. Like Jonathan Kulick, I think that Mike’s anaysis misreads Kmiec. For “As a Republican, I believe … ” I think one should read “Consistent with the principles that lead me to adhere to the Republican Party, I believe … “
In context, Kmiec’s rhetorical use of the phrase is designed to remind the readers he wants to persuade that he’s one of them, sharing their commitments, and nonetheless prefers a candidate who doesn’t share those commitments.
But that aside, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to acknowledge an obligation to one’s core tradition.
What Kleiman and the others fail to talk about (perhaps also because they are academics and mostly polite) is what that “core tradition” might be. During the past two decades, the core tradition of republicanism has been to abandon whatever principles one might have had — fiscal responsibility, limited government, separation of powers, even states’ rights — to achieve electoral success, political power and the graft that can go with it if only you are corrupt enough. That graft includes not only the government contracts, the favorable legislative, judicial and regulatory treatment, and the money, power and publicity that come from access to powerful people, but also the “independent” think tanks, the endowed chairs, the Centers for the Study of This and That where useful idiots can have sinecures. In short, the whole apparatus of a pet chattering class.
When more than half the country thinks of republicans, that’s what comes to mind. Some deplore it, others are ecstatic, but either way, that’s what the brand has become. Heck, the very fact that I could reasonably use “brand” in that last sentence tells you how far the party has sunk.
So when someone like Kmiec talks about believing certain things “as a Republican”, he’s not just trying to assert his in-group credentials or acknowledge his debt to an intellectual tradition. He’s trying, ever so gently, to reassert that intellectual tradition and remind his fellow-travelers that it once defined them. Self-styled “republican” intellectuals who continued to support the ugly, corrupt power machine that the GOP has become long ago mortgaged their souls for a mess of pottage (and some very nice shiny pottage it has been); Kmiec is, I think, trying create a reality in which that’s not so.