WASHINGTON, Oct. 30, 2015 — The rhetoric of the Republican presidential race is increasingly removed from reality, particularly the “sky is falling” pronouncements being heard on a daily basis from the two current front-runners: Ben Carson and Donald Trump.
Carson has compared the Obama health care plan to slavery and says the United States is “very much like Nazi Germany … the government using its tools to intimidate the population. We now live in a society where people are afraid to say what they actually believe.”
According to Trump, “Our country is going to hell.” His campaign has consisted largely of personally insulting everyone in his path, such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who, in Trump’s view, is not a hero for suffering years of torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese because, after all, he was captured.
An interesting observation from someone who never served in the military.
Carson’s obsession with Nazi Germany is particularly curious. To understand what has been happening during President Obama’s years in office, he recommends that people read “Mein Kampf.”
Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who served in the last three Republican administrations, notes:
To declare the United States to be like Nazi Germany is a special kind of libel, yet Mr. Carson is clearly drawn to it … Some part of the answer has to do with his staggering ignorance when it comes to the unique malevolence of Hitler’s Germany … In one respect, Mr. Carson is the antithesis of the crude and boisterous Mr. Trump. In tone and style, Mr. Carson comes across as calm, reasonable and agreeable. But in fact he is more rhetorically intemperate than even Mr. Trump.
The fact is that there is nothing conservative about the rhetoric of either Trump or Carson.
Rather than the politics of hope embraced by Ronald Reagan and others who ushered in the modern conservative movement, these candidates are offering something far different.
In Wehner’s view:
Such rhetorical recklessness damages our political culture as well as conservatism, a philosophy that should be grounded in prudence, moderation and self-restraint … Self-government requires more of people than pounding sand. There is vital work that needs to be done, including addressing sluggish economic growth, a widening opportunity gap and an unsustainable entitlement system. Because these things are hard doesn’t mean we can give up, and we certainly don’t need conspiracy-minded amateurs like Mr. Carson and Mr. Trump distracting our attention from them.
The idea that anyone can be president even though he or she has no experience at all in government is much like saying that anyone can be a brain surgeon whether or not one has attended medical school. Running government is a craft which must be learned, something which is rejected by those who hold Washington in disdain.
In his book, “Politics As A Vocation,” Max Weber expresses the view that the most important qualities for a politician are passion, a feeling of responsibility and a sense of proportion. If a politician lacks the quality of detachment, permitting reality to guide him, he ends up striving for the “boastful but entirely empty gesture.”
His work “leads nowhere and is senseless.”
Having no experience in government, candidates such as Trump and Carson must foster an apocalyptic view of our government in crisis and in need of a savior — the “sky is falling” lament.
Columnist Michael Gerson, who has served in Republican administrations, writes:
Trump, Carson and other apocalyptic politicians must encourage a mental state of emergency among Republicans. Lacking any relevant qualifications in the current political system, these candidates must bring that system into complete disrepute. Since the politicians have made such a hash of things, they insist, a neurosurgeon or a businessman couldn’t possibly do worse. Oh, yes they could. It may be possible to convince a good portion of the Republican primary electorate that American institutions have gone to hell. If so, during the general election, the institution in crisis would be the Republican Party.
Those who call themselves conservative today often seem to have no knowledge of the conservative political tradition in our country. They confuse conservatism with anarchy. The Founding Fathers were skeptical of government power, but understood the necessity of government.
Russell Kirk, whose book “The Conservative Mind” helped spark the modern conservative movement, argued that part of the problem with the modern world has been its commitment to “ideology,” whether it be communist, Nazi, socialist, anarchist or some other variety. He commended instead political prudence, one of the four “classical virtues,” as opposed to “ideology,” a word that signifies political fanaticism.
It was Russell Kirk’s goal to persuade Americans to oppose political extremism and utopian schemes, by which the world has been afflicted since 1914.
“Politics is the art of the possible,” the conservative says: he thinks of political policies as intended to preserve order, justice and freedom. The ideologue, on the contrary, thinks of politics as a revolutionary instrument for transforming society and transforming human nature. In his march toward Utopia, the ideologue is merciless.
Genuine conservatism, Kirk writes,
is not a bundle of theories got up by some closet philosopher. On the contrary, the conservative conviction grows out of the experience of the species, of the nation, of the person … It is the practical statesman, rather than the visionary recluse, who has maintained a healthy tension between the claims of authority and the claims of freedom … The Constitution of the United States … is a sufficient example of the origin of conservative institutions in a people’s experience … What the conservative seeks to conserve is the world of order that we have inherited, if in a damaged condition, from our ancestors … All that we can reasonably expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustment and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform, we may preserve and improve this tolerable order. But if the old institutional and moral safeguards of a nation are neglected, then the anarchic impulse in mankind breaks loose … The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the 20th century world into a terrestrial hell.
The genuine conservative tradition seems absent in the rhetoric of today’s leading Republican presidential candidates. This is unfortunate for many reasons, not least the boost it gives to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
The Obama administration has presided over an economy in decline and over a decline in America’s role in the world. The president and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, promoted the overthrow of the government of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, without any plan concerning what would come next. That country is now in chaos as the influence of Islamic State is growing and tens of thousands of refugees leave its shores for Europe.
In Syria, the lack of any apparent U.S. policy has led to the intervention by Russia. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been permitted to succeed. At home, violent crime is increasing, and the White House’s repeated criticism of law enforcement has created an atmosphere in which FBI director James Comey reports that police are hesitant to do their jobs. Race relations under Obama’s watch have deteriorated.
Yet, despite what more and more Americans believe is a failed presidency, one in which Hillary Clinton played a major role, Republicans seem unlikely to gain the White House with a “sky is falling” mantra and inexperienced candidates who irrationally compare our country with Nazi Germany.
Hopefully, there is time for responsible leaders to emerge, those who understand government’s complexity and have a genuine desire to govern.