I will look back knowing I was attacked for standing on my principles, for coming into this public process with the idea that you ought to put forward something to offer the public so that they can make a clear choice.
Of all the drama in the just-concluded election, Richard Mourdock’s concession speech was the most arresting to me.
You’ll recall that he had been given a good chance to become Indiana’s next senator but the electorate turned against him when he opined that “…life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Even cutting him some slack because his concession speech seemed to be off-the-cuff, I am still struck by the way he confused being attacked for standing on his principles, and being attacked for having objectionable principles.
The distinction is important. When subtle untruths like Mourdock’s are allowed to slip unchallenged into the public subconscious, they reinforce the false perception that one side stands on principles and the other side rejects the very idea of principles.
Most people, myself included, respect people like Richard Mourdock for being true to their principles, especially when it costs them an election. We can respect his consistency and passion, but vehemently disagree with his opinion.
As we do so, I hope the Richard Mourdocks of the world will remember that politics is not a contest between a moral group that stands for their principles and an amoral group that wishes the first group would shut up about right and wrong. It is an earnest debate between people who care deeply about what’s right, but disagree over what that is.
That is how we make progress: by respecting the other side enough to engage them as equals with opinions worth debating, and giving them credit for engaging us likewise. We give evidence and reason for our opinions, and invite the other side to do the same.
Over time, the ideas that promote human flourishing will win out. Those who promote evil ideas are rejected. There are ups and downs, of course, but it’s clear that the arc of history is toward better morality. (When was the last time you heard of a European head of state entertaining his people by burning live cats to cinders?)
Richard Mourdock was right about one thing: he offered the public “a clear choice.” There was a debate over the choice and he lost.
Maybe he lost the argument because he didn’t really make one. Next time, let him attempt to persuade his electorate that God exists; that God has a plan for each of our lives; that God is perfect so his plans must be perfect; and that his perfect plans can counterintuitively include something as admittedly horrible as a pregnancy from rape.
If he is unwilling to undertake that task, let him say, “This is what I believe but I can’t back it up with evidence or logic. If you agree, vote for me. If you don’t, I still respect you as a person of principle.”