Principles, Not Parties, Must Guide Our Votes

Principles, Not Parties, Must Guide Our Votes
Barry Brownstein | June 15, 2024

By Barry Brownstein, Special to The Kennedy Beacon

The Wall Street Journal recently

Endless essays speculate on who RFK Jr. will take more votes from, Biden or Trump.

The pundits miss the most significant point: that the Kennedy candidacy is a campaign of clearly articulated principles. America is a country founded on principles, ideas, and beliefs.

As more Americans realize that voting on principles, not for political parties, is part of America’s DNA, we understand why Kennedy could win the presidency.

In 1867, America’s greatest philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, delivered a talk, “The Progress of Culture.” Emerson captured the American ethos when he said, “Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any material force, that thoughts rule the world.”

When we understand that in America ideas rule, we understand that the arguments that Kennedy is a spoiler are profoundly anti-American. America is a country whose greatness came from transcendent ideas and principles, not slavish adherence to party loyalty.

In his 1841 essay “History,” Emerson argued: “Every revolution was first a thought in one man’s mind, and when the same thought occurs to another man, it is the key to that era. Every reform was once a private opinion, and when it shall be a private opinion again, it will solve the problem of the age.”

Solving many problems of our age requires adherence to principles, not party.

Kennedy is calling on the best in American nature. Yet, in their coverage of his campaign, the media, in Emerson’s words, “magnify appearances” and “measure by vulgar standards.”

Emerson referred to our tendency to ignore important historical changes and magnify the trivial.

Preserving a constitutional republic requires principles, not partisanship or glory-seeking politicians. Kennedy will win if, in Emerson’s words, we don’t ignore “the most pregnant and silent revolutions.”

In Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address of 1801, he reflected on the duty before him. Instead of blowing his own horn, Jefferson found greatness in the country’s founding principles. Great principles, not great individuals, were required.

Jefferson said, “I approach [my duty] with those anxious and awful presentiments which the greatness of the charge and the weakness of my powers so justly inspire.” An awful presentiment is a foreboding of disaster. Jefferson was referring to his personal power and not bemoaning limits on constitutional powers.

Today, as in Jefferson’s time, there are forebodings of disaster.

Today, as yesterday, only principles, not party loyalty, can see us through these troubled times.

Today, unlike yesterday, the major-party candidates show no humility.

Jefferson “humble[d] [himself] before the magnitude of the undertaking” he faced. He revered not his own greatness but the documents, especially the Constitution, that enshrined the ideas and principles of America.

Jefferson was clear that only his reliance on principles prevented him from despair:

Principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by which we try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.

In a debate among three candidates, if they were asked to articulate the principles by which they would govern, Kennedy’s response would inspire us. As they always do, Biden and Trump would respond with meaningless bromides and attacks. No wonder Biden and Trump desperately want to exclude Kennedy from the debate stage.

If the media had genuine curiosity, they would uncover the deep desire to restore American values and principles driving Kennedy’s support. Voters see an opportunity to recognize that if America’s problems are to be solved, principles, not parties, must be our guiding light.

Barry Brownstein is professor emeritus of economics at the University of Baltimore and the author of The Inner-Work of Leadership. You can find his essays at his Substack, Mindset Shifts.

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