The Choice of Models in 2012

Some months ago, Princeton professor Robert George framed the 2012 elections as a choice between two models: 1) the model of the Republican candidates that’s based on “America’s founding principles” of  “constitutional and limited government, the rule of law, democratic participation, the market system, the institution of marriage, [and] the sanctity of human life,” and 2) an “alternative model” put on the table by President Obama, a model that’s otherwise than the “historic, traditional, American, constitutional model.”

It’s fair to contrast the models of the president and his GOP challengers–the differences are worth considering–but to oppose them as strikingly as Robert George has done clouds the real differences between them.  First of all, Obama’s model, for all its deficiencies and problems, does not represent a radical departure from trends in the American political tradition.  His expansions and concentrations of state power have precedence in the United States.  Second, the president’s model, while in some ways failing to reach the ideals George cherishes, is still based on them.  The difference between the models of each party is a difference based on interpretation.  Democrats and Republicans differ in how they understand the Constitution, the limits of government, the rule of law, democratic participation, the market system, the institution of marriage, and the sanctity of human life, but they both largely believe in some conception of these principles.  Third, the models put forth by the Republican presidential candidates arguably violate these principles in some way or another.   However much they champion these principles in theory, in reality they, like the president and his administration, are poor exemplars.  George’s superficial and ideological analysis overlooks the actual similarities and differences between the presidential candidates and, as a result, misleads his audience about the choice of models in 2012.

Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a freelance writer who blogs about culture, philosophy, politics, postmodernism, and religion. He is a contributor to the group Catholic blog Vox Nova. Kyle lives with his wife, son, and daughter in North Texas. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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13 Responses

  1. Kimmi says:

    The models are North and South, north exemplified by the Quakers, in particular.

  2. Tom Van Dyke says:

    I wish y’d have been specific here, Kyle. I like Robbie George but I’m not a video fan so I’m not going to sit through this. But there’s quite a case to be made that the modern Dem Party is a product of the modernity that coalesced as an ideology in the later 1800s, and so has no real claim to the Founding.

    Not that we’re bound by the Founding, but we are discarding its underlying philosophies [like natural law, Prof. George’s favorite topic], that is, discarding a Founding that we really don’t understand.

    • Kimmi says:

      This sounds like an interesting conversation.
      Want to hear what you’ve got to say about the “modernity” as you put it — the case, as you will.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      Specificity didn’t seem necessary given Professor George’s generality. Anyhow, you can make the case that the ideologies of one (or both) of the parties are philosophically distant from those of the founders, and perhaps George has made that case, but such an argument wasn’t what he presented in the video clip.

    • James Hanley says:

      there’s quite a case to be made that the modern Dem Party is a product of the modernity that coalesced as an ideology in the later 1800s, and so has no real claim to the Founding.

      The first part of this claim does indeed have a case, but the second half does not. Modernity began before the later 1800s–as he notes, that’s just when it “coalesced”–and the Founders were, particularly in the context of their time, moderns. While not fully modern by standards of late 18th century coalescing (for lack of a better term–if that sounds like a snarky rephrasing, it’s not meant to be; I’m taking the coalescing claim seriously and at face value), the founders were products of the Enlightenment, which is the origins of modernity. They were not medieval church scholars, but were deeply influenced by enlightenment rationality. They were not pure rationalists, of course, but they had drunk deep from that well. Consequently moderns have wholly as much claim to the Founding as pre-moderns, who–just as with the moderns–are only partially represented in the understandings of the Founders.

      Now post-moderns, on the other hand… 😉

  3. Mark A says:

    Sorry, but this strikes me as typical party-line rhetoric. As you rightly point out, the ‘model’ proposed by candidates (any candidate, regardless of party) often differs drastically from that carried out once in office. Any so-called ‘debate’ during the campaign is merely a spectacle meant to energize the base of the party.

    I genuinely believe that the overwhelming desire of both parties is to maintain the status quo. As a result, Republicans feel the next best thing to having a Republican in office is to elect a Democrat. That is why spokespeople for both parties keep the rhetoric heated and exaggerate any perceived differences – in order to give the impression that there are wide chasms in what each believes when the truth is they are largely just variations of the same theme.

    Essentially, I’m saying I agree wholeheartedly with what you have written, but with one caveat to your final statement. When you criticize George’s analysis as superficial and misleading, I’m of the opinion that that is completely intentional.

  4. James Hanley says:

    No, no, George is really on to something. Obama is truly shockingly radical. That’s going to come out in the campaign, just as soon as Romney locks up the nomination. I had hoped that would be today, but Santorum had another victory, so we’re going to have to wait a little while now. But when all the evidence of his radicalism comes out–all that evidence the Founders Party has that the rest of the American public has not become aware of over the last three years because the mainstream media has hid it from them–oh, then you’ll see just how right George is.

    Any day now. Any day.