As the 2012 presidential election nears, various groups will be making their cases for this or that candidate. Some commentators will be looking at each candidate, and their stated political goals, their positions, and what they claim they want to accomplish. And some will look at the platforms of the two main political parties in the U.S., the platforms of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Thus, for example, R. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, Kentucky) has recently weighed in, contending that with the two parties and their respective candidates there is a clash of world-views (The Great American Worldview Test–The 2012 Election).
That is, each party offers starkly different political visions rooted in antithetical religious and worldview commitments. Thus, Mohler can write: “President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney have adopted policy positions that place them in direct conflict, and the platforms of their respective parties reveal two radically different renderings of reality.” Mohler goes on to write: “The nation’s political polarization is clearly evident in the radical distinctions between the Republican and Democratic platforms. But this polarization is not merely political. It is fundamentally moral and ideological. These two platforms present two contradictory understandings of realities as basic as human life, liberty, and the institution of marriage.”
In one sense this is exactly right, and it is most clearly seen in what to my mind is still the most urgent and tragic moral issue of our day: abortion. If the Democratic Party was ever the party of the disenfranchised and oppressed, it has certainly ceased to be that. Not only does the Democratic Party want to guard the legal status of abortion, they want to take the money of U.S. citizens (through taxation) and fund abortions at frighteningly “liberal” levels. In short, the Democratic Party—at least on the abortion issue—is fully committed to the spread and funding of wickedness. What a tragedy. And on what has more recently become a hot issue, Mohler is correct that the Democratic Party has chosen to fully embrace (and attempt to accomplish) the legalization of same-sex “marriage,” while the Republican Party is still resisting this move. So, kudos to Mohler for drawing attention to some ways in which the two major parties differ radically on some key issues.
But my interest here is to draw attention to the similarities of the parties, and to point out what might be somewhat unsettling. While the two parties advocate different positions on abortion and same-sex marriage, both parties walk to virtually the exact same tune on the most fundamental nature of statecraft. Here is what I mean—and it may be helpful to back up a bit here in the American story. The United States is a federation of states. These states were once independent (from each other) colonies, and at one point chose to conduct their relationships with one through the Articles of Confederation. Eventually these colonies would choose to appoint representatives to gather and try to draft a constitution. And the Constitution of the United States of America was drafted in 1787, and ratified (by the necessary nine of thirteen states) in 1788. These (now) states were sovereign republics/political entities, even though they had agreed to give limited and enumerated authority to the Federal Government. But it is essential to remember that the states preceded the Federal Government. It is also essential to remember that sovereignty—in the political sense—remained with the individual states. And thus, the Federal Government—whether the executive or judicial or legislative branches—only had the authority to do those things which the Constitution allowed them to do. That is, the individual states still retained all the power and authority and liberty which they had not granted to the Federal Government.
Now, fast-forward to 2012. What does this mean today? And why does it matter today? Try this: pick up a copy of The Constitution of the United States of America and read it. And then every time you hear from either presidential candidate or either party about what they intend to do, ask one very simple question: “Do they have the authority to do that?” You will find that the Federal Government has no legal or constitutional power to do most of what it does. And this is really what the Ninth Amendment and Tenth Amendment (particularly the Tenth) were all about. The Tenth Amendment reads: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” And if one reads Article I, Section 8, one can read the enumerated powers which the U.S. Congress has. These powers are limited and granted to Congress by the states themselves. So again, every time a candidate outlines a plan, or every time one reads about some goal in the platforms of the Democratic or Republican platforms, one should simply ask: “Does the Constitution give them the authority to do that?” And the unsettling answer, most of the time, is: “No”.
Then what does that mean? Simply this: we in the United States currently live in a situation in which our elected officials—Republican or Democrat—have virtually no commitment whatsoever to ruling and conducting themselves in accord with the law of the land. There has recently been one wonderful exception—Ron Paul and a few kindred spirits who consistently uphold the Constitution when they take action as Congressmen. But the sad truth is that neither the Republican or Democratic Party are the least bit interested—at least at the national level—in the rule of law. So, I think Mohler is right that worldview issues are on display during every election, including the 2012 presidential election. But I suspect this is true in a way he does not intend. I know today that whether Obama is re-elected or Romney is elected, one of them will be inaugurated in January 2013. And I know that whoever is elected will swear to the best of his ability “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” And, I know that whoever is inaugurated has no intention whatsoever to do that. He either (1) will simply be lying (a possibility), or (2) simply has not grasped the plain meaning of the Constitution (a not very reassuring alternative). But we also know—based on track records going back many decades—that both parties are fundamentally committed to the centralization of power, and that both parties have completely abandoned any sort of meaningful commitment to the federalist system of the Constitution, where the Federal Government has limited and enumerated powers.
Let’s say I go with what might be considered the more morally compelling choice (and clearly for Mohler this is Romney/Ryan). I know that I am voting for a ticket which has no intention of keeping its word. These two candidates have no intention whatsoever in executing their offices in accord with the law of the land. It is often said (by some) that “We are all Keynesians now”—in that many have embraced the notion that in the world of economics there must be a centralized power always micromanaging the monetary system. It could also be said—in a sense—that “We are all statists now”—in that Republicans and Democrats, “conservatives” and “liberals” are both committed to the advancement and consolidation of political power, and of using that power for various political ends. The Federalists (who were more optimistic that the Constitution would not lead to the abuse and centralization of power) have won, and the Anti-Federalists (who were not so optimistic) have lost. The heirs of Alexander Hamilton (to simplify, an advocate of centralization) have won, and the heirs of Thomas Jefferson (to simplify, an advocate of decentralization) have lost. Should Christians hold their nose and vote for the “lesser of two evils” (certainly the Republican ticket as Mohler sees it)? Perhaps. But don’t pretend that such a vote is a vote for someone committed to the Constitution or to the rule of law. You will simply be voting for a ticket which will violate the Constitution in certain ways a tad different from how the Democrats like to violate the Constitution.
Should Christians vote for a candidate knowing in advance he will be lying to us (or that at least he is very confused) when they swear to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution? Good question. And yes, worldview issues are in a sense at play. But the real worldview issue that should receive attention is that in the 2012 presidential election Americans are given a choice between two parties who are at best statist (i.e., committed to the centralizing and using of state power). Yes, worldview issues are on display in this election. But the real worldview issue is that at the level of political theory and commitment to the Constitution, both parties are both thoroughly statist, and are thoroughly committed to a revolutionary and illegal concentration and use of power. In that sense there is hardly a choice in this election. One might for prudential reasons vote to try to oust Obama. Fair enough. But the most fascinating worldview issue in this election is that both parties are thoroughly statist (and ultimately revolutionary) in their worldview, and it will take a lot of hard work and reading for Christians—and everyone else—to come to terms with how this situation came about. And it will also take some work to figure out how to live and act as a faithful Christian when faced with such dismal choices.
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.