This Memorial Day weekend, you are invited to visit the Multnomah County Republican Party booth at the Multnomah County Fair in Oaks Park. Memorial Day honors our fallen soldiers, and is also Decoration Day, reminding us to decorate their graves. Below is a speech I gave earlier this week based on a 1919 poem written in the wake of World War One, which speaks timelessly of processes of decay, some of which afflict the Oregon Republican Party.
I shall begin with a poem about political decay, discuss the relationship between morality and law, relate this all to the decline of the Oregon Republican Party, and end with a prayer for Party unity.
The poem is “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats. It begins:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
This is great poetry because there is universal truth in it, something universal about how things fall apart; I want to focus on the line: “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
What does that really mean? What does it mean here, and now, in Oregon politics? I came back to this poem not just because of Memorial Day, but because I keep hearing young Republicans say “you can’t legislate morality”. These are our “best;” they are the future of the Oregon Republican Party, but some process of decay made them so very, very wrong.
Of course you can legislate morality! Law consists of codified moral principles. That is how it all began with the Code of Hammurabi and the Ten Commandments.
These principles are conservative: law is a restraint on the natural man, on his base impulses, in order to create moral conduct. Under every legislative controversy is a deadly struggle over whose definition of moral conduct will prevail. Our whole lives, we have been losing that struggle.
The guilty may not be punished with capital punishment. Fully viable fetuses, babies really, may be killed with impunity. The religion of Christianity must be driven from the public square, but the religion of environmentalism is taught everywhere.
Real morality is called immoral or a product of “white privilege”. Patriotism is called bigotry. We feminize men and raise children without fathers. The vice of pride is promoted as the virtue of self-esteem. Our culture drowns the ceremonies of innocence in a tide of mockery and oversexualization.
The Left legislates its moral code all day, every day. The great appeal of political correctness, the great driver of its remorseless expansion, is its strident moralism. Human beings have a slot in their brain that must be filled with some moral teaching, and the Left rots traditional morality and authority away and replaces it.
They are Hitler. They are Pol Pot. The end product of their rule appears in the second stanza of Yeats’ poem as a “rough beast” with “a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun”.
As Republicans, we stand as a house divided against this rough beast. Things fell apart, and the center did not hold. The Oregon Republican Party split. On one side were the “best”, the financially successful, the winners. On the other side were the “worst,” pursuing morality with passionate intensity: the OCA, the Moral Majority.
How many times have I heard the “best” Republicans say: “I just can’t stand those people!” “They keep making us lose.” The forces of decay and anarchy want you to say this. Their lies are everywhere, painting the “worst” Republicans as haters, bigots, and now the deplorables.
The “worst” Republicans get angry, and this makes the attacks even easier. But there is righteous anger, like Jesus driving the moneychangers from the Temple. But many of our “best” Republicans have fallen in thrall to the moneychangers as they lost their convictions.
Of course some of the “worst” Republicans are too angry, too judgmental and too uncompromising. Many Christians fail to hate the sin but love the sinner. And so do many of the “best” Republicans.
The “best” Republicans stopped coming to Republican meetings, and the “worst” Republicans took over the Oregon Republican Party. And so the “worst” Republicans lost the knowledge and experience of the “best” Republicans—and their money too. But please, please consider that the “best” Republicans lost something far more important: the courage of their convictions.
Back in 1978, Alexander Solzhenitsyn told the world that the most striking thing he observed after coming to the West was the absence of civic courage. But how can there can be courage of convictions without convictions? Men who lack all convictions display no civic courage, and attract no one to their cause. The falcons cannot hear the falconer.
It takes courage to stand against allegations of racism, sexism, bigotry, and now “white nationalism”. Can anyone deny that there is now a climate of fear in this country, with conservatives afraid to “out” themselves? The rough beast, with its gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun, inspires this fear.
For years, I thought the “best” Republicans were right. I thought that reason was enough to make decisions of public policy; I admired libertarian appeals to enlightened self-interest. I thought questions of morality could be consigned to some private sphere.
I was wrong. Without a politics of public morality, something totally essential is missing from the Republican Party. The greatest political movements come from appeals to principle, like our founding opposition to slavery. Appeals to morality, to principle, excite and involve citizens the most.
I say to you we cannot hold back the blood-dimmed tide by mere appeals to reason, or economic efficiency. We are up against those who moralize everything, and their morality is founded on the worst in human nature, the envy, the covetousness, the desire to take the property of others and control them.
What if we had the courage of our convictions? When was the last time you heard the “best” Republicans explain how high taxes are immoral by attacking the legions of parasites sucking the life out of the hard-working middle classes? When was the last time you heard a Republican take the position that socialists should be ashamed for pushing an economic theory rooted in the evils of envy and covetousness? When was the last time you heard Republicans pointing out the immorality of a system that robs our future with debt, like unpayable PERS obligations.
The “best” Republicans should preach against an unjust legal system so complex that ordinary people are lost. This is not just inefficiency; this is the very evil Jesus condemned when he preached against the Pharisees for their ever-increasing web of legalistic rules that ignored justice.
And what of the social issues? As the Left reaches new levels of moral awfulness, there is a vast field where the “best” and “worst” Republicans can join together legislate moral improvement.
The “best” Republicans should not just agree that killing babies in the third trimester is bad; they should stand hand-in-hand with the “worst” Republicans to outlaw this practice with real moral enthusiasm. The best Republicans should fight efforts to make the exercise of Christianity a crime wih real enthusiasm. The “best” Republicans should stand enthusiastically to fight hypersexualizing children in elementary schools with school materials we buy from Planned Parenthood. Where are you when the ceremony of innocence is drowned?
We are at our strongest when we back policy positions with moral enthusiasm, because our way is the morally superior way. We are the Party that stands against the blood-dimmed tide. The Democrats are the party that will loose it all upon us.
Of course passionate intensity can lead to excess, to extremism, to demands for a purity that real people cannot meet. Of course it can make it harder to listen to others, or to compromise when half a loaf is better than none. But for too long the “best” Republicans have been just as overly judgmental as the “worst” Republicans they criticize.
The “worst” Republicans know they have been losing for a long time. We have all been losing a long time. The two factions of the Oregon Republican Party need to look in the mirror, look at each other, see the best parts of each other, and start working together with real moral conviction. Only then can we create a center that will hold. Only then can we hold back the blood-dimmed tide.
And so I come to the end, and ask you to bow your heads in prayer. Lord, let us recover the courage of our convictions. Let us work together with a passionate intensity to restore American ideals. Give us leaders who can unite the party, and take control of the State and restore the center here in Oregon. With your help, we can do it.