Clearing the Fog
in the
War of Words


  logomachy--1. A dispute about words. 2. A dispute carried on in words only; a battle of words.
logomachon--1. One who argues about words. 2. A word warrior.



Political Philosophooey

Back during the 2000 Republican primary, in a debate in Des Moines, the candidates were asked which political philosopher or thinker they identified with and why. The funny thing is, only one candidate answered the question: George Bush named Jesus Christ "because he changed my heart."

The answer has become a standard ingredient in the Bush Sux stew. The way most people-whether detractors or not--tell the story, Bush said Jesus was his "favorite [or most influential] political philosopher". In fact, that is how the other candidates answered. Here is how one of the detractors describes the other candidates' answers:

Most of the candidates took the question seriously. Steve Forbes thought that Locke and Jefferson provided the philosophical underpinnings of the American Revolution. Alan Keyes thought that all of the authors of the Constitution were equally important, for the document that they wrote. Orrin Hatch praised Abraham Lincoln, for his quest for equality and freedom, and Ronald Reagan, for his stance against the Soviet Union. John McCain responded that Theodore Roosevelt stood for both reform and national greatness.

Jesus' prescription to "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Mk. 12:17) an excellent start, but He didn't have any more political advice. As a choice of political philosopher, Bush's answer was pretty lame. Forbes was more on the right shelf in naming Locke, and the others mostly named people who had thought about politics and government with significant results.

But the question was not name a favorite or influential political philosopher or thinker. The candidates were asked which one they identified with, and I doubt that Steve Forbes sees himself as a new John Locke, or that John McCain sees himself up on a big white horse like Teddy Roosevelt, though the risks are slim to none that he would ever hear "Teddy Roosevelt was a friend of mine, and you're no Teddy Roosevelt", or that even Orrin Hatch would be so fatuous as to compare himself to Lincoln or Reagan.

I think that beyond the fact that Bush actually answered the question, the joke is on his detractors, because his answer was a good one. We don't want a president who gets his politics out of a book of some intellectual's grand ideas or pet theory. People who do that have a tendency to build big systems of nasty camps, or at least project their vision through a distorting lens of a professor's pet peeves.

Politics is a practical, pragmatic art whose end is good government. Washington, Jefferson, and other founders remarked that maintaining a democracy depended upon the people being disciplined by firm moral principles. George Bush realizes that the fount of democratic politics is in men's hearts. Political leadership in a democracy means leaving people the freedom to let the good in their hearts blossom. Some times it means guiding and persuading them to better ways. And some times, leadership means recognizing when the evil in some men's hearts makes them a danger to the nation.



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