Applying Reagan's Eleventh Commandment . . . What Does This Mean?
By Kevin Rex Heine, Section News
As a matter of lifelong religious preference I'm a Confessional Lutheran (specifically, WELS), a point I may have made once or twice before on this site. I recall well the catechismal training where such questions as, "What does this mean?," or "How is this done?," or "Where is this written?" were routinely asked in such a way as to prod the minds of middle-school-aged youth to master the basics of sound biblical doctrine.
Given what I am currently seeing as a predominant tendency to completely misuse a key in-party philosophy (as well as an apparent misunderstanding as to how that philosophy is to be applied), I find myself compelled to address it similarly.
What is commonly known as "Ronald Reagan's Eleventh Commandment" was actually developed by California Republican Chairman Gaylord Parkinson during the 1966 California Gubernatorial Primary. CAGOP had seized upon the tailspinning popularity of then-incumbent Governor Pat Brown (current Governor Jerry Brown's father) to advance a well known and charismatic political outsider. This did not please the Rockefeller-wing establishment, who favored moderate San Francisco Mayor George Christopher and started going after Ronald Reagan with all manner of personal attacks.
Chairman Parkinson, who had watched Nelson Rockefeller, George Romney, and the moderate-centrists systematically undermine Barry Goldwater and the conservatives two years previously (both in the primaries and during the general campaign), did not want a repeat of 1964. In order to prevent a fatal split within the state party, and force both candidates to run on their respective platform proposals and policy positions, Parkinson promulgated the philosophy, "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican." The end result of this concept was Reagan beat Christopher in the primary (64.6% to 30.8%), and then beat Brown in the general (57.65% to 42.35%).
In increasing frequency since that time, republican candidates (regardless of office) have attempted to use this philosophy sort of like an asbestos union suit every time they come under fire from primary opponents. It's got to the point that any particular republican "frontrunner" will cry foul any time that he comes under criticism, and emphasize that our objective is to beat the democrats, not beat up on each other.
But is that what Parkinson and Reagan really meant by this philosophy? Are we really supposed to treat the primaries as a political beauty contest, go along to get along, and just cast lots for whomever should be the nominee to engage the democrats?
Nope, not even close.
According to Reagan's own account of the matter, Parkinson's originally intended the rule as a means to allow a true conservative to actually run as a conservative without having to risk being labeled as an extremist by his own party. (Evidently, milquetoast centrism was starting to become a problem in republican politics even then.) But yet, with the marvelous revisionist historian job that's already been done to Reagan's legacy, it seems that at some point in every contested republican primary someone needs to sit down and clarify what is really meant by Reagan's Eleventh Commandment. So then, in the spirit of Martin Luther . . .
Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow republican.
We should in any contested republican primary mark, avoid, and publicly rebuke where necessary any effort by any candidate to slander, defame, libel, or otherwise personally attack his/her republican opposition, and do likewise to any attempt to betray the republican ticket in the general election.
We are forbidden from using, as avenues of attack against a fellow republican, anything that is considered personally destructive, such as: character assassination, attacking a candidate's family, in any way misrepresenting a candidate's professional and/or political record (through cherry-picking out of context, deceit by omission, or any other such deception), using media reports that haven't been independently verified, or any other similar demagoguery.
We are permitted, and indeed expected, to fairly, honestly, and with appropriate vigor challenge any primary candidate's publicly available political and/or professional record which is prima facie inconsistent with true republican values, and we are permitted to continue such challenge up to the point that the candidate in a constructive manner credibly, clearly, and cleanly addresses the challenge on the record through either explanation or recantation.
Thus, as has been explained, Reagan's Eleventh Commandment is designed and intended to prohibit the occurrence of Chicago-style "politics of personal destruction" attacks during the primary campaign, and that includes any similar personal labels or smears. The media, of course, doesn't much care about this distinction, and has no problem with any instigation that will get republicans to fighting each other in the primaries. Neither, apparently, does Mitt Romney.
According to in-that-state family contacts, former shipmates, and a few professional contacts, during the run-up to the Florida primary, the out-of-bounds ads by Mitt Romney (to include everything aired by Restore Our Future, his "not coordinated" Super PAC) outnumbered the legitimate policy attacks and pro-Romney pieces by about 5-to-1, if not more. In fact, of the 11 ads sitting on Restore Our Future's YouTube channel, only one (entitled "Now You See The Problem") is actually a pro-Romney piece; of the other ten, only two are anti-Santorum and the remaining eight are anti-Gingrich.
That the Washington Post has thrown the flag - calling out at least one "insidiously inaccurate" ROF ad as being loaded with "egregious fouls" and "sleazy mischaracterization," ultimately giving it a "Four Pinocchio" rating - doesn't seem to matter that much to ROF, or to WMR for that matter. Nor does it seem to matter that Mitt's overwhelmingly personal-and-negative approach in Florida resulted in depressed turnout in every county he won, so I suppose that it's fortunate that there weren't any downticket races for him to screw up.
You would think that, with a 20 year record in Congress, plus all of the rest of his publicly-known "baggage," that hit pieces wouldn't be necessary, that there would be plenty of legitimate policy and/or philosophy challenges that could provide advertising fodder. But, to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, that an opponent has to resort to personal attacks means that he's run out of political ones. And so, essentially, Romney has decided to cede the moral and issues high ground to Gingrich (and to a lesser extent Santorum and Paul).
And this creates a problem for Mitt, in which he may ultimately be hoist on his own petard.
See, what Reagan's Eleventh Commandment specifically permits is an honest examination and criticism of a primary candidate's political and professional record, including such examination by said candidate's primary opponents.
Dutch Reagan himself demonstrated the truth of this in both 1976 and 1980. In 1976, Reagan went after Jerry Ford on Vietnam policy, on giving up the Panama Canal, on kissing up to the Kremlin, and generally dragging both the party and the country to the left. In 1980, Reagan ripped into George Bush, sr., on economic policy, on underestimation of Soviet intentions while serving as head of the CIA, and on key social issues. But at no point did Reagan ever initiate or countenance a personal attack on either of his opponents (though neither of them returned the favor).
Even the pro-Gingrich Super PAC, Winning Our Future, which is considerably more balanced on its YouTube channel (with 12 pro-Gingrich ads, 12 anti-Romney videos, and one anti-establishment ad), goes after Romney based on facts that are not taken out of context and confines its attacks within the proper understanding of Reagan's Eleventh Commandment.
This, of course, is where Romney runs into trouble. By insisting on stepping out of bounds with his Super PAC advertising, while simultaneously side-stepping any legitimate challenges to his own record, WMR invites honest scrutiny of the sort that the mainstream media isn't likely to provide. By going personal and negative, Romney is leaving himself wide open to legitimate policy attacks based on his record, a record that contains more openings for such criticism than a brick of shotgunned swiss cheese. None of his primary competitors have to go personal to beat him; all they have to do is force him to run on his record. (The "Massachusetts Moderate" label fits him quite well, and is appropriately hung.)
On the flip side of that coin, Gingrich has devoted an entire page of his campaign website to the sole purpose of setting the record straight (with regard to policy, business, and even personal criticism). It's awfully difficult to keep the attack ads within the context of Reagan's Eleventh Commandment when the target of those ads is clearly willing to either explain or recant on the record. But even though Paul, Romney, and Santorum all have just as much explaining to do as Gingrich does, I'm not aware of any similar page on their campaign websites (but please correct me if I'm wrong).
Perhaps this may be why Romney won't engage Gingrich in a Lincoln-Douglas style debate.
An open, honest, and appropriately vigorous primary campaign ultimately results in stronger nominees to go against the democrats in the general. Consistent with Reagan's Eleventh Commandment, we must resist the ever-present temptation (especially as advanced by the liberal media elites) to engage in intra-party mudslinging, as we will find ourselves ultimately attempting to beat the democrats at their own game. Conversely, we must also avoid the equal temptation to refuse vigorous engagement because of the fear of being labeled as hostile or mean, because all that will do is leave the nominee vulnerable in the general campaign.
And for those republican primary candidates who insist on ignoring this philosophy? Well . . .
Applying Reagan's Eleventh Commandment . . . What Does This Mean? | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 hidden)
Applying Reagan's Eleventh Commandment . . . What Does This Mean? | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 hidden)
Related Links+ Confession al Lutheran
+ sound biblical doctrine
+ 1966 California Gubernatorial Primary
+ Parkinson promulgated the philosophy
+ Restore Our Future
+ Restore Our Future's YouTube channel
+ Washington Post
+ resulted in depressed turnout in every county he won
+ both 1976 and 1980
+ Winning Our Future
+ its YouTube channel
+ and is appropriately hung
+ setting the record straight
+ Also by Kevin Rex Heine