Thursday night’s first-of-the-season Republican debate began with an explosion of ire and outrage as Donald Trump refused to pledge not to run as an independent should he not win the party nomination.
The real outrage is that all ten candidates standing on stage did not raise their hands.
Of all the night’s questions Fox News anchors deserve to be lambasted over, and there were many, Bret Baier’s request that candidates raise their hands like obedient schoolchildren and “pledge to support the eventual nominee of the Republican Party” and “pledge not to not run an independent [third party] campaign against that person” was the most egregious. He compounded the ludicrousness by then arguing that “experts say” a three way race would hand victory to the Democratic nominee.
This tired bromide is thrown at candidates every single election cycle. It is the garrote the political hegemons use to dispatch independent thinking to an unmarked grave.
It is a heinous practice and it is long past time for it to end. The only way to throw away a vote and allow it to become a tool for exploitation by other political actors is to note vote in line with individual conscience.
If there is any minority political group in this country that should realize this, it is conservatives, who have fought tirelessly, and without much reward, against intransigent Republican elites whose first instinct is to attack, vilify and dismiss well-reasoned arguments as nothing more than extremist sycophancy. Victory, if it is to be meaningful, must be predicated on principles, not party organs. Dissent is not heresy in the American system.
That’s why it’s outrageous, especially for figures like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul whose anti-establishment attitudes have led to them being ostracized by their own party leaders, to not raise their hand and reject such nonsensical pseudo-arguments.
Loyalty oaths have a macabre history. Whether it is the relentless prosecution of the House Un-American Activities Committee or the slavish oath of Stalin to the Red Army, such intellectually hedonistic practices have their consequences. And these are usually extracted in blood. Or the destruction of the livelihoods of the hard-working, innocent everyman. Federal D. Roosevelt’s National Industry Recovery Act, a bill ostensibly passed to alleviate the dire economic hardships of the Great Depression, brought about a form of loyalty oath in the form of the National Recovery Administration’s blue eagle emblem. The symbol was meant to indicate proprietors were doing their part, participating in safe, fair business practices that did not exploit the workers. Businesses that did not display the eagle were boycotted, some looted and destroyed.
Is this really the kind of political atmosphere that should be cultivated? Because this is exactly what the kind of pledges to party such as Fox News demanded would result in.
It would obviously be wild and baseless hyperbole to suggest American political parties have any desire to oversee a putsch of their more free-thinking members, but repudiation of any who question too loudly, whose intransigence threatens the success of back-room political deals, is not only within the realm of imagination, it has happened under the leadership of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner.
Yes, political parties have a vested interest in some degree of ideological cohesion. Their platforms need to stand for something, otherwise the benefits of organization and meaning- the boons of a party system- are totally washed out.
But platforms change, every election cycle at the same time a nominee is chosen, in fact.
Interestingly, the Republican National Convention, during their spring 2015 meeting, passed a resolution reaffirming their commitment to neutrality throughout the primary which also “encourages a fair and impartial debate that will give our grassroots members the strongest voice in selecting the presidential nominee.” That seems to suggest a more laid-back, tolerant approach to freedom of speech and thought.
In the words of science fiction legend Rod Serling, who was once asked to sign a loyalty oath before a speaking appearance at Moorpark College, “I think a requirement that a man affix his signature to a document, reaffirming loyalty, in on one hand ludicrous—and on the other demeaning.”
Oaths can be recanted. Records of supporting ideas cannot. Sadly, that record now betrays how little comprehension most of the current field’s frontrunners understand this issue.