Bob Schwartz

Tag: conscience

A Courage, Conscience and Character Party

I have long said that a third (or fourth) party can’t work in America because of political structure, tradition and history. I may have been wrong.

America has a two-party system, one of the many ways we are “exceptional” compared to the rest of the democratic world, which mostly has some form of a multi-party parliamentary system. As much as our system more or less works, it is now apparent that it works only when it is filled, top to bottom, with people of courage, conscience and character. We know this because for the first time in more than two centuries, courage, conscience and character are in short supply, or at least buried under ambition, greed and who knows what other issues.

And so, I introduce a new kind of third party. The Courage, Conscience and Character Party (aka the People of Principle Party).

There is no policy or ideology litmus test for this party. Of course policy and ideology matter, sometimes a lot, in the particular way things get done. But I now see that in the big picture, these are secondary. Whether one is progressive, conservative, or in between, none of that matters if you are not driven by brave decency. Even if the policy or ideology is not to our liking, or completely anathema, we can at least be inspired by those who publicly demonstrate the qualities of courage, conscience and character.

It is true that wherever you stand politically there are preferred policies that appeal to you and for which you will fight. But it is just as important to be able to point to people—be able to point out those people to our children—and say: Their plans may be wrongheaded and ill-conceived, but I don’t question their honesty, sincerity, decency, empathy, courage, conscience or character. We seem to be taking a break from that possibility, and if it takes another party to get us there, we will be a better country and better people for it.

Politics and People of Conscience

Conscience of Conservative

There’s talk of Barry Goldwater in the context of the current election cycle. I’ve written about him before—as it turns out, a few times, here, here, and here. It’s not that I’m a fan of conservative politics; it’s that I’m a fan of conscience.

Goldwater’s unlikely and iconoclastic nomination for President at the Republican National Convention in 1964 was predicted to be a disaster. It was, as he was crushed by Lyndon Johnson in the election. On the other hand, his political philosophy lived on in the party—coming into full flower with Ronald Reagan and, more than fifty years later, is still the touchstone of conservative Republican politics.

Goldwater’s famous book was a manifesto called The Conscience of a Conservative. Focus on that word “conscience.” It means principles that are grounded in the deepest part of your beliefs, principles that are often difficult to stand by. On one side is the temptation of expedience. On the other is being criticized for standing in the way and being outcast. Or in Goldwater’s case, for leading the party into a (temporary) black hole.

In both parties right now, conscience is being tested.

Paul Ryan and others are speaking their mind about Donald Trump, even in the face of calls for unity over conscience, for party above principle. Other Republicans, seeing the same candidate, admit he is flawed in ways they have trouble abiding, but a unified party has a shot a victory, while a splintered one has none.

Among Democrats, even some Hillary Clinton supporters, in candid moments, admit that they have deep reservations about her on fundamental grounds of honesty, integrity, and transparency, but say that winning is everything, and that she is the path to victory—whatever her shortcomings.

We shouldn’t indict those who compromise their conscience, in politics or elsewhere. Each of us does it or has done it, and we live with it. Maybe sleeplessly sometimes, but we live with it. What we should do is praise those who manage to know their conscience and follow it, often at a price. This is what we try to teach our children. This is what we should suggest to our politicians.