by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jay Cost contends at National Review Online that Democrats seem willing to ignore political norms in pursuit of power.
Another buzzword I have heard a lot lately is “norms,” a word that makes the speaker sound as if he or she recently came from helming a graduate seminar. Usually, bemoaning the collapse of norms is a direct knock on Donald Trump, and a way to establish that he is undermining democracy, which, I am similarly told, depends on norms.
Again, all of this sounds super smart, but really they are talking about civic virtue. This is one reason John Adams believed that only a religious people were fit for self-government — because their behavior would be more normative. Tocqueville would call this “self interest, rightly understood.” And before all of that, the ancient Greeks identified virtue as being important some 2,500 years ago.
Welcome to the Hellenistic age, pundits. …
… What grates me about this recent talk of norms is that that efforts to police norms have of late been notoriously one-sided, mainly serving the purpose of advancing Democratic political priorities. For instance, in 2011, President Barack Obama invited Paul Ryan, who was then the chairman of the House Budget Committee, to a speech on entitlements. At the speech, Obama blasted Ryan’s economic proposals as “a vision of our future that is deeply pessimistic,” and he proceeded to rip them to shreds in a highly partisan fashion, with Ryan in attendance, at the invitation of the White House.
Was this a violation of the “norms” of government? Yes. Did liberal pundits and their supposedly nonpartisan friends in the mainstream media blast the president for said violation? Not especially.