Representative Justin Amash, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, may be the most principled man in American politics. Unfortunately, he is most likely going to wind up in the ash bin of principled politicians, most of whom sacrifice their career and their influence for the small pleasure of being able to sleep well at night. Amash recently left the Republican Party to become an Independent.
He believed that unquestioning loyalty to a political party had led to Congress ceding its Constitutional powers to the executive branch and that political parties represented only their own interests, and not those of the American people. He was the lone Republican who publicly stated that the president had committed impeachable offenses; that his party’s silence on that was unconscionable, and a dereliction of duty. In 2015 Amash was one of the founders of the Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative members of the Republican House.
A principled person is someone who is doing no more nor no less than standing up for what they believe in, no matter what the consequences. It may be seen as brave or foolish, and what they believe in may be noble or crazy, but people of principle put their money where their mouth is.
Believing in compromise to get things done for the common good is also a principle, and one that invites the anger of others who have either different principles or none at all.
We have a political system that more and more rewards intolerance over progress, stagnation over action, loyalty to party over common good, inflexible doctrine over common sense. Ronald Reagan said, “The person who agrees with you eighty percent of the time is a friend and ally; not a twenty percent traitor.” Reagan’s landmark 1981 tax cut legislation was supported by many Democrats, and he touted its passage as a bipartisan victory.
In the 2018 election 43 seats held by Republicans were won by Democrats (Republicans won three Democratic seats), which gave Democrats control of the House. There were also significant political changes in seats already held by Democrats where moderates were replaced by firebrands such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. These last were the more liberal of the Democrats elected and it didn’t take them long to make a statement. Unfortunately, the statement they made was to chide moderate Democrats for not espousing liberal ideas. Even a casual look at the election results shows that about 30 of the Democrats who won in Republican districts were moderates, not liberals. To be more clear, they ran as moderates and were elected by a moderate constituency. The Democrats needed to take over 23 Republican seats to gain control of the House, they did 17 seats better than that, and it was because of the moderates who won that they did so. To denigrate someone for sharing the political beliefs of the people they represent is foolish. To denigrate someone for helping put you in a legislative majority is just plain stupid.
This was a lesson apparently lost on the freshman liberals. They might not like moderates, they might not like compromise, but they sure as hell wouldn’t like being in the minority, which is where they would be if the people they criticized hadn’t won.
In short, you don’t call people who agree with you 80 percent of the time traitors.
Jim Elliott served 16 years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator and four years as chairman of the Montana Democratic Party. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.