I went to the Republican's Party's Lincoln Reagan Day Dinner last night, largely to see Stephen Moore, who writes for the Wall Street Journal and advocates for free enterprise. His message was predictable enough, and you can read Jim Gransbery's account here, or mine on Thursday or, since this is such a great country, you can read both. I asked Moore afterward about the Iraq War, which he hadn't mentioned among his reasons why Republicans lost out in the 2006 election. He acknowledged that the war probably had been the biggest issue in the election and mentioned, a bit surprisingly, that he had opposed the war. Or maybe not surprisingly, since he has been affiliated with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank that opposed the war, just as it opposes most government enterprises.
There were no discouraging words about the war from Tamara Hall, who was the mistress of ceremonies for the event. She praised Bush and the war, and said she looked on the president as a "Christian brother who's carrying a load that no single person should have to carry." In what struck me as an odd bit of timing, she also screened a tribute to soldiers, complete with battlefield suffering, just as the Republicans were digging into their salads. It nearly put me off my feed. Maybe she was just being consistent with what appears to be the modern American ideal that war is just fine, so long as we don't have to pay for it.
She said a few other off-putting things. One was a story about a college professor who supposedly offered to prove to students that God doesn't exist by daring God to knock him off his lectern. God chose not to get involved, apparently, but a war veteran, so the story goes, obliged by tackling the professor, explaining himself by saying that God was awfully busy, what with the war and all, and had asked the veteran to act on His behalf.
She swore twice that the story was true, which I doubt. But even if it were, it would seem to say less about atheism among academics than about how quickly people can become violent when they fool themselves into thinking they are carrying out God's will.
But that was not the oddest story she told. That story was about some debate or another that she was in where a student asked what she would do to help students get through college. She said, approximately, that she replied, "It's not my job to get you through school." She said she told the student that it was up to him to get through college, taking on outside jobs and even dropping out for a time if necessary to save enough money to pay his own way.
The response had a self-reliant ring to it, and it drew a nice round of applause. But I couldn't help but think that talk like that also had something to do with Republican setbacks in 2006. After all, almost no students truly pay their own way through college. They go to state schools, they get scholarships and grants, they borrow money through government-backed loan programs, they (or their parents) benefit from favorable tax treatment. The government has its foot in the game every step of the way.
So unless one is seriously making the case (as Rick Jore might) that there should be no government support of any kind for higher education, then it misses the point to pretend that one is taking a principled stand against helping students get through school. All one is really doing is quibbling over the price.
It's easy to mistake a dollar sign for a principle. And if that is what Republicans are doing, then 2008 could be another long year.