I have been a conservative all my life, and I can tell you it's nature, not nurture. I remember dutifully if half-heartedly supporting my lifelong-Democrat parents' Mondale pick for the '84 campaign, upstream against my good Reaganite chums. Otherwise, I remained uninterested in politics. Instead, it was moral principle that moved me. When my high school held mass detention for students who didn't sell enough magazine subscriptions, I wrote a scathing letter pointing out the irony of punishing poor fundraisers by paying teachers not to teach them, while sending the rest of the tuition-paying students home on a school day. Writing against abortion in the school paper, I was short of breath from the palpable sense of injustice. When I discussed it with the faculty advisor, I could not help my eyes from welling up. And I squandered my prime debauching years at college by debating theology and finding my faith.
My youth was what is now called "privileged," a label issued with a sneer. Pity. For it is only when one isn't choking on personal grievances that it is possible to dialogue with moral principle.
I think of this when those sworn to protect the Constitution scoff at its principles, offering instead to write a check against a bank of presumptive grievances. When leaders won't trade in principle, we never see whether they have any funds. When no principle is offered, it is impossible to judge it good or ill. Recall Senator Feinstein, who, when asked if her proposal to ban firearms was constitutional, responded "I saw people [get] shot." People who accept payment in such jelly-of-the-month memberships in lieu of principles get what they deserve.
Leadership demands more. The republic was founded on a set of principles, offered to and approved by the people. And, at one time, it was thought that principles formed a sort of compact between the people and their representatives. "Such a man will devote himself entirely to the republic," said John Adams in 1803, and "although he may give offence and create enemies by them, he will set death itself at defiance, rather than abandon his principles."
These days, that compact is an endangered species. It's sometimes spotted in Kansas, and we wonder what's wrong with it.
Tim Kowal is an attorney in Orange County, CA. You can follow him on Twitter at @timkowal.