by Morton Blackwell
Issue 223– March 13, 2013
I know of no two people who independently hold the same positions on everything, yet everyone I know takes actions in cooperation with at least some other people. Complete coincidence of preferences is not required for cooperation.
For decades, the largest contributor to my late friend Paul Weyrich’s activities was Richard Mellon Scaife. He greatly admired Paul’s effectiveness in politics. One day Mr. Scaife told Paul he could no longer support him. He said Paul was against abortion, and that he, Mr. Scaife, was a supporter of Planned Parenthood. Paul asked for a meeting, and Mr. Scaife agreed. Paul took a train to Pittsburgh.
Knowing that Mr. Scaife had keenly followed election politics for many years, Paul showed him a national list of a couple of dozen major races in which he, Paul, had been involved. There were two columns, the first contained conservatives Paul had actively supported and beside it were their well-known liberal opponents. All the conservative candidates were pro-life; all of the liberal candidates were pro-choice. Paul asked him which candidates on the liberal list he would have wanted Paul to support.
Mr. Scaife looked down the list carefully and replied, “None of them.” He is primarily an economic conservative, and those Paul had opposed were a pack of leftists Mr. Scaife knew and despised. Admitting their different positions on abortion, Paul said, approximately, “You have to set your own priorities. What’s more important to you?”
On the spot, Mr. Scaife told Paul he’d keep supporting him, and so he did, generously, until Paul died many years later.
Intensity, not preference, determines political action in the public policy process. When faced with an opportunity for action, we are guided by the comparative intensity of our preferences. Rarely, if ever, are there perfect choices. Like it or not, to act in an election campaign or a legislative battle means to accept imperfections in the side one chooses.
If the available choices appear approximately equal mixes of good and bad, one can prudently choose not to act and let the actions of others control the event. But some imperfect choices can be right and others clearly wrong.
After the fall of Napoleon III, the French monarchists won election to a majority of seats in the national government, but they were divided into Legitimists and Orleanists. The two Bourbon factions agreed that the elderly, childless, Legitimist claimant to the throne would become king, to be followed by the Orleanist claimant, who would then be the Legitimist heir under the ancient laws of France.
The two sides agreed on everything except what would be the flag of France. The Legitimists insisted that it would be the historic white flag and a field of gold lilies; the Orleanists insisted it would be the revolutionary tricolor which their ancestor, Louis Philippe, accepted in 1830. The two sides squabbled for years, during which they lost (probably forever) their monarchist majority in the national government, which became the Third Republic.
I am optimistic that all those in our country currently threatened with destruction by the leftist ideologues will cooperate, rather than follow the Bourbon path to disaster. Let us follow the wisdom of Whittaker Chamber, who wrote:
I do not ask of the man who lets me slip into his foxhole whether he believes in the ontological proof of God, whether he likes me personally, or even whether, in another part of the forest, at another time, he lobbed a grenade at me. I am interested only that, for the duration of the war, he keep his rifle clean and his trigger finger nerveless against a common enemy. I understand that that is all he wants of me.
Morton Blackwell is president of the Leadership Institute and a member of the Board of Directors of the American Conservative Union.