Moral Limits and Foreign Policy
There's been talk on the left on how how it is that we have a narrative of the GOP which speaks of strength and power while the narrative for the Dems is one of weakness.
Especially when you pit a war hero like Kerry vs. Bush, or war heroes like McGovern and Carter who both served in the 2nd World War. The speculation usually is that GOP voters are easily cowed, needing a daddy figure who can rescue them from their fears.
Here's a different thesis. There is something that connects Kerry and McGovern, besides their military record, and there is something that connects Reagan and Bush, besides skipping out of such service. And that something is what the GOP uses for its narrative.
Often democratic candidates speak of limits to US power, whether practical or moral limits. They speak of consideration for the concerns of other nations, for treaty obligations, and for law. The concern for law breaking that attended the spying story is an example.
Often republican candidates revel in the defying of such things as laws, treaties, concern for other nations, the United Nations. Strength is defined to do what one wants without reference to any other concern. Weakness is the willingness to be hemmed in by such things.
Every GOP candidate can sound strong when they laugh at the French or UN resolutions. And every democrat candidate can sound "weak", despite their personal acts of bravery because they want to act in reference to some limit from congress to treaties.
Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a book Children of Light, Children of Darkness. What distinguished the two? The first sees actions; individual as well as national ones with reference to some higher moral ideal that regulates one's individual interests and desires.
Children of Darkness are folks where individual interest and will is sufficient to justify any and all actions. "What can mixture can light have with darkness?" the apostle Paul asks? I'm not sure, but I think it's defining the foreign policy debate today.
Does that mean that the children of light always gets it right? Not for Niebuhr, in fact he thinks that the children of darkness is more likely to have a better sense of human nature and work it for their own ends. There can be a naivety among the children of light.
Does this mean that lightness and darkness depends on party? No. It means that often strength is treated as being free from obligation. When you see a foreign policy that talks this way, it's one which is not moral. When there are limits, a place for morality comes in.