There was a 16th century French theologian named Sebastian Castellio. His reputation paled in comparison with such giants in the field as Martin Luther, John Calvin, or Thomas Cranmer. But he stands out to me because he can truly be described as the Apostle of Religious Tolerance. He believed that the way to true salvation was to lead a pure and holy life according to the dictates of an individual's conscience. He was no Pollyanna, however. He understood that human beings think they can control God, that they can impose their will on their Creator, which lead him to write: "We do not dispute concerning the way to Christ, but on his relationship to God the Father, on the Trinity, predestination, freedom of the will, the nature of God, the angels, the state of the soul after death, on a multitude of things which are not essential to salvation; things which, in truth, we can never know unless our hearts are pure, for these things must be comprehended spiritually."
Now you may well ask what the words of an obscure 16th century theologian are doing in a blog on 21st century politics. From what I've been able to discern thus far, the Democratic Party is about to start the political equivalent of the 16th century religious wars, the results of which still plague the world today. We Democrats seem to be torn between a progressive wing that is so staunchly sure THEIR views are the only path to political salvation and a moderate wing that believes the Democratic Party is more like a big tent with room enough for a civil discussion of the issues, thus resembling the disputes between Luther, Cranmer and Calvin on one side and Sebastian Castellio on the other. I tend to be a Castellio man myself!
Those religious wars were about salvation and how to obtain it. Today's political wars are about power and how go get it and how to use it most effectively. The way I look at it, there are really only three "Castellios" in the field, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar and Beto O'Rourke, one of whom has yet to declare his candidacy. The rest of the field consists of true believers who look on the Castellios of this world as weak willed traitors to the cause of political correctness.
From my perspective, the point of a political war is to win, to win by following a strategy and using tactics that will help your political faction to win. As I look at the present day American body politic, the American people aren't very much concerned about which faction can win but rather which faction can ultimately govern effectively. From my perspective, government by true believers is inherently inefficient and will prove to be unsuccessful.
Let's face it, most Americans are political moderates. They aren't THAT concerned about ideological purity. They may see themselves as capitalists but they're not so naïve as to believe capitalism is not without its faults. Neither are they so foolish as to completely accept socialism with all its faults and foibles, with an all-powerful central government in charge of all means of economic life and industrial production.
So what has this to do with the up-coming Democratic primary. Simple, on one side are the true believers like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. On the other side are the moderates like Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden and Beto O'Rourke. In order for either faction to prove to be successful, each must develop a program that will win the general election, gather enough legislative power to control the government, and initiate a sensible platform for governing this country effectively.
The question is, which side is more capable of doing this. I'd place my money on the moderates. People like Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar and Beto O'Rourke understand that in order for a government to prove to be successful it must offer a program that makes sense to the American people. The true believers favor pushing unpopular programs down unwilling throats. Can it work? Possibly, for a while. But in time the loyal opposition will do everything in its power to undermine the effectiveness of the true believers' political agenda and thus to wipe out everything they have so painstakingly achieved. Over time they will succeed and therefore what will have been the point of all the effort expended by the true believers?
Winning isn't the only thing. For that matter winning isn't everything either. Ultimately winning is governing effectively so that the vast majority of the American people can accept the program the government presents. It worked for Social Security. It worked for Medicaid and Medicare. It can work again IF the Democrats are smart enough go govern more with their heads most of the time and with a heaping helping of heart sense some of the time. Am I confident they can pull it off? Not really. But as the poet says, "hope springs eternal"!
Filed under: Politics