Last summer while I worked in a political campaign for a Democrat, I met a Republican ex-Mayor who was supporting my candidate. We worked a festival together, so we had some time to talk. I was interested in picking her brain about what she thought about the Tea Party influence over her party.
In particular, I asked her about Jim DeMint. He is our senator who, in my opinion, is like the Godfather of the Tea Party movement. She told me that although she frequently disagreed with his views (like the one that gay people should not be allowed to be teachers), she liked him because he was the same man on the campaign trail as he was in office. In other words, he never misleads people about who he is and what he believes in. I was amazed to learn that it mattered less whether she thought that what he believed was true so long as he was steadfast and open about it. She seemed to fully embrace the postmodern idea that truth is less important than passion and sincerity.
This brings me to the latest Tea Party man of the hour, Paul Ryan. Here is a man who is pretty passionate about the philosophies and ideas of Ayn Rand. She had much love for the productive superstars in society and disdain for the rest. She obsessed over the idea that without the efforts of the most creative businessmen, scientists and artists, the economy would falter and society would implode.
In turn we see Paul Ryan standing firm in his insistence that once people are no longer economic producers for society, our society should not be obligated to provide medical care for them. His idea is to take their money that they paid into the Medicare system and dole it back out to them later in the form of vouchers to purchase their own health insurance.
Most Americans probably see their society in contrast to one that casts their infirm and elderly out on ice floes to die. (Anybody recall the Palin-induced outrage over death panels?) I doubt there are many who actually embrace the idea that because a person has lost their economic production value to society they should be discarded much like worn-out machinery. However, I suspect there are many who embrace Ryan simply for his tenacity and willingness to propose such a politically difficult position. They support him precisely because he has the temerity to propose something that is politically unpopular. His idea is politically unpopular because it runs counter to the general culture and beliefs of our society.
By prizing stubbornness and candor above philosophies and ideas we circumvent the value of democracy. We open ourselves up for zealots who advocate ideas and plans that run counter to our culture. If we were all to vote for people based on their passion rather than their ideas, then we would be destined to elect some pretty dangerous characters.
Harry Truman is admired for putting a sign on his desk that says, “The Buck Stops Here.” I appreciate the fact that he was willing to take full responsibility for his administration. In a democracy, however, the buck doesn’t stop at our leaders; it stops with us. We are the ones who placed them in their position of power. It is easy to want to throw all of the bums out; it is harder to acknowledge that we put those bums in power. It is easy to admire the strong backbone of a zealot; it is more difficult to consider the value of his or her ideas.