At GOP Debate, Presidential Candidates Summarize Their Philosophies

At the start of yet another completely pointless GOP presidential debate, CNN’s John King asked the candidates to briefly introduce themselves to the audience. Their responses are incredibly telling about their underlying political philosophies.

Ron Paul said, “I am the defender of the Constitution. I’m the champion of liberty. This shows the road map to peace and prosperity.” In other words, the rule of law is important and should be defended, but the law must be based on principles, and this principle ought to be liberty. These principles direct, or guide, people toward peaceful and prosperous relationships. Paul’s philosophy is the rule of law based on liberty, and it promises nothing, but a “road map” that free people can choose to use to build a better society.

Now, contrast Paul’s philosophy with the others.

Rick Santorum said, “We have a lot of troubles around the world. As you see, the Middle East in flames, and what’s going on in this country with gas prices and the economy. And I’m here to talk about a positive solutions that confront this country that include everybody from the bottom up.” Rick Santorum’s philosophy is reactionary totalitarianism. It’s based on fears, “troubles around the world,” and it’s entirely reactionary to transient foreign conflicts, high gas prices, and depressed economies. His solutions are totalitarian in nature, requiring “everyone from the bottom up.” It’s nice to know he included the skeptical libertarians in his vision.

Mitt Romney said, “There was a time in this country when you knew that if you worked hard and went to school, and if you learned the values of America in your home, that you could count on having a secure future and a prosperous life. That was an American promise and it’s been broken by this president. I want to restore America’s promise.” Romney’s philosophy is ambiguity. His statement could have come from a Democrat, a socialist, almost anyone. Nonetheless, a few implications can be drawn. His philosophy again appears to be  based on fear, namely that people cannot care for themselves, and like Santorum, Romney believes the president has the powers to “restore the American promise.”

Newt Gingrich said, “I’ve developed a program for American energy so no future president will ever bow to a Saudi king again and so every American can look forward to $2.50 a gallon gasoline.” Gingrich’s philosophy is utopian arrogance. It’s based on programs he came up with, and it “bows to no one” while promising you any specific thing you might want. $2.50 gas? Sure. And give yourself a perfect life while you’re at it.

Each man’s description too neatly fit their record for it to be simply coincidental. Rather, each man said what came to mind first. Ron Paul thought of liberty and the Constitution. Santorum thought of the fears he’s reacting to, and the totalitarian powers required to protect us. Romney thought of nothing except himself as president giving speeches involving vague platitudes. Gingrich thought of himself showing up a Saudi king to the applause of millions.

The candidates went on in the debate to talk a lot about freedom and liberty, but their spontaneous introductions give lie to their rehearsed rhetoric. Liberty isn’t a program. It doesn’t require “all of us from the bottom up.” It’s not vague platitudes, and it’s not specific promises. And it certainly isn’t based around any single individual–let alone a politician. I’m reminded of a passage from Gene Healy’s The Cult of the Presidency. He writes:

Today, politics is as bitterly partisan as it’s been in three decades… But amid all the bitterness, it’s easy to miss the fact that, at bottom, both Left and Right agree on the boundless nature of presidential responsibility. Neither Left nor Right sees the president as the Framers saw him: a constitutionally constrained chief executive with an important, but limited job: to defend the country when attacked, check Congress when it violates the Constitution, enforce the law–and little else. Today, for conservatives as well as liberals, it is the president’s job to protect us from harm to “grow the economy,” to spread democracy and American ideals abroad, and even to heal spiritual malaise.

Later in the debate, Santorum took up that mantel as spiritual, moral leader more explicitly: “I was talking about… the increasing number of children being born out of wedlock in America, teens who are sexually active…. We hear this all the time: cut spending, limit the government, everything will be fine. No, everything’s not going to be fine. There are bigger problems at stake in America. And someone has got to go out there–I will–and talk about the things.” 

If Santorum wants to talk about “bigger problems” than government’s power in our lives, then he should’ve entered the priesthood instead of being a half-assed Catholic his whole life and then deciding to run for president. President and priest share some of the same letters, but none of the same responsibilities. I’m left wondering after debates like this. Do Americans ever get tired of these lecturing presidents? Ron Paul recently called “social issues” a “loser” in the presidential race. I hope so, but I’m not sure. Americans apparently have a real affinity for being berated about their moral shortcomings.