The EFM Feature

Some thoughts on the New Republic cover story on Sam Brownback (subscription required) that Nancy linked to earlier this week…
The tone of the story–what in the world happened to Sam Brownback?–is telling. It gets to the heart of a question that the media will also ask of Governor Romney, and that the governor must be prepared to answer: How can a politician become more conservative with age and experience? This seems incredibly odd to reporters, as experience tells them that public leaders–be they the members of the erstwhile GOP majority or a Supreme Court justice–become more liberal with time, not more conservative. But as we learned from Ronald Reagan, sometimes those who trend in the opposite direction become our most consequential figures. I think there are several explanations for such a change, and I hope to discuss more of them at a later date. For now though, I’ll start with what is the most important: monumental events that demand moral clarity.
Certain major events concentrate the mind and demand a clear, unambiguous response. September 11 is an obvious example, and President Bush’s clear-eyed “with us or against us” line properly displayed the moral clarity that a response to such an event demands. Would Bush have waged such a vigorous, if occasionally inept, war against Islamic fascists had 9/11 never happened? No. Simply put, an event forced his hand and drove down to the core of his political philosophy–there is good; there is evil; and evil must be defeated.
The same could be said for Romney’s response to the Goodrich decision. Faced with the logical extension of the ideology of the “rights” cabal, Romney opposed the decision with clarity and forcefulness. This was obviously a defining moment, one that some attribute to political calculation rather than principle. But in the same way that Bush would never have had to articulate a Reagan-like view of foreign affairs without 9/11, Romney never would have had to emerge as a staunch defender of traditional marriage without the Goodrich decision. Had neither event transpired, it would have in no way meant that either man lacked the basic philosophy underlying their responses–but that they lacked an outlet to express such views in matters of public consequence. That’s why we should view such moments as the most revealing, most truthful windows into a politician’s soul. And when we understand them as such, and recognize that their visceral reactions were driven by moral clarity, then we should in no way be surprised that such men find themselves becoming increasingly conservative with experience.

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