March 31, 2005
John Danforth to the GOP: Abandon the Principles of Lincoln

By Hugh Hewitt

John Danforth has an odd op-ed in yesterday's New York Times: "In the Name of Politics." Senator Danforth argues that Christian conservatives have too much power in the GOP. He cites the Congress's ineffective intervention in the Schiavo tragedy and a proposed bill in Missouri that would ban stem cell research as his two examples. He decries a "fixation on a religious agenda," and declares grandly that "as a senator, I worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around."

Perhaps that is why super-majoritarian opinion on marriage got rolled, Senator, because you and your colleagues were asleep at the wheel. Perhaps parts of today's agenda seems to you so "religious," because courts in California, New York and Massachusetts have unilaterally decreed a massive rewrite of the country's shared tradition on marriage, obliging those who want to defend marriage as it has existed for all of the country's history to advocate for a Constitutional amendment. Perhaps people of faith see in the Schiavo case a move towards euthanasia --the article in today's Times on Vermont's new bid to allow "doctors to prescribe suicide drugs for terminally ill patients who request them" certainly underscores what is sure to be the next act in the end-of-life drama.

In other words, perhaps the senator ought to have focused on the fact that the courts and the left are setting the agenda, and the center-right coalition, which includes many people for whom faith informs a world view, has decided that the demands of the radicals are not going to be agreed to without a political fight. It is messy stuff, but it is also unavoidable.

Rather than aid the effort to delegitimize the agenda of the center-right coalition, it would be more useful if elected and former elected officials simply gave us the benefit of their views on particular issues. Senator Danforth is an extremely well regarded man, and not the least because of his effort to bring peace to Sudan, an effort that was for the longest time primarily --indeed almost exclusively-- part of the agenda of Christian conservatives. Was that part of the GOP becoming, in the Senator's words, "the political extension of a religious movement."

Senator Danforth also recalls what he considered to be the core of the GOP during his years in the Senate:

"We believed in limited government, in keeping light the burden of taxation and regulation. We encouraged the private sector, so that a free economy might thrive. We believed that judges should interpret the law, not legislate. We were internationalists who supported an engaged foreign policy, a strong national defense and free trade. These were principles shared by virtually all Republicans."

I do not know any prominent and influential Christian conservative who disagrees with this agenda, and in fact know many who have worked ceaselessly to enact it. But they also have an agenda that seeks to reduce the number of abortions, to empower parents in the lives of their children, to preserve marriage as it has always been, and to assure that schools are not the preserves of left-wing ideology. It is simple arrogance to assert that these goals are not consistent with the historic traditions of the party of Lincoln, which began as a party of moral certainty that slavery was wrong. In demanding that morality not play a part in the party's council's, Danforth is the one arguing for an abandonment of the GOP's history.

Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That is Changing Your World. This article is from his daily blog which can be found at

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