The failure of the Graham-Cassidy attempt to repeal Obamacare is symptomatic of a deeply unhealthy political system. The Obamacare repeal was a signature issue of the 2016 campaign. Everyone from the president on down stumped on it. The Republican-controlled Congress itself voted for repeal many times over the years, only to be thwarted by the Democrat president’s veto.
But now it appears to be over. All the conditions were in place for victory. A chance will be lost and it is questionable if it will ever return.
Looking for Blame
It is easy to blame the senators that defected and voted against the effort. And they should be severely blamed for their actions.
Likewise, it is easy to say that the bill was far from ideal. No one holds otherwise, but everyone knows that politics is the art of the possible and that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” The bill was only a beginning; it dismantles some of the more egregious parts of this unpopular socialistic program.
However, the real causes for the debacle point to a much more profound problem. What is missing, and has long been missing in our political leadership, is a sense of honor.
Honor can be defined as an authentic esteem given to all that is excellent in society. It towers above that which is strictly material, functional, and practical.
Those with honor hold themselves to high standards regardless of the consequences. They do not fear the opinions or actions of others. Their only fear is being untrue to their pledged word and their principles. Such people hold themselves accountable. For them, a promise, a handshake, a simple agreement under honor is their guarantee that it will be done.
And that is what is wrong with the present political system. It has insufficient honor. In today’s rushed news cycle, things happen and are quickly forgotten. Campaign promises can be like Snapchat exchanges that appear on the screen and mysteriously disappear shortly afterward. In the name of pragmatism and bipartisanship, many elected officials betray their promises to appear popular in the polls.
There is no accountability during a political term, be it two, four, or six years long. The only recourse voters have is a distant primary, and by then it is hard to undo all the damage done. Changing this is an impossible constitutional battle. Restoring honor and a sense of shame may bring results quicker.
A Rule of Money
Many claim the culprit for this lack of honor are special interests with plenty of money that help influence the debate. When money rules everything, it does corrupt elected officials.
Indeed, no one doubts this influence. The image of a great swamp has been used to describe the impact of long-embedded interests upon policy and legislation.
While this influence is real, the Obamacare debate suggests a new and much greater force at work in Washington since conservatives had nothing to lose by claiming their mandate.
And that new force is the rule of fear.
A Rule of Fear
There is a fear of challenging the liberal narrative that dominates the culture. This fear has now come to rule not only in Washington but all over America. The fear of being labeled politically incorrect leads people to work against their self-interest. One sees this in the case of NFL team owners who prefer to lose money by allowing players to kneel during the national anthem.
There is the fear that one’s principles and standards will cause one to be labeled rigid, old-fashioned, or cruel. People fear being judged judgmental. Thus, they abandon their principles when asked to defend them, as in the case of those who surrender to the bathroom war tyranny.
Finally, there is the fear of going against the prevailing opinion. Many abandon principles simply because they mistakenly believe few think as they do. So they give up everything for fear of being out-of-step.
Filling in the Void
Fear rules when there is no honor. It moves into the vacuum and takes over. Where there is fear, everything can be politicized since all certainties can be challenged. It creates the conditions for a culture of dishonor, in which people conform to the lowest standards and seek personal gratification.
Thus, without a rule of honor, simply electing more conservatives will never turn the situation around. Just crafting better political platforms will also fail. Merely holding votes will not guarantee that needed legislation will pass.
That is why a rule of honor is the fitting response to this rule of fear. Historically, when honor rules, it defines a lifestyle that naturally leads people to esteem and seek after those things that are excellent. It introduces a set of values that includes quality, beauty, goodness, and charity.
If conservatives want to win, they must never surrender their principles. Rather, it is all the more urgent that they hold on to them, unite, and proudly affirm themselves in the debate and the public square.