The “Principles” Question

by Jonathan H. Adler

After asking the candidates about their fundamental principles, Gibson did not seem to understand the difference between principles and policies.  Indeed, his exchange with Huckabee on the subject reminded me of this exchange between Fred Thompson and Charlie Rose from a few weeks back.

CHARLIE ROSE: You constantly say in this campaign that you are a conservative. What does that mean today? Is George Bush a conservative?

FRED THOMPSON: Well, let`s talk about me. (LAUGHTER) I thought we might get to that. I think that it means things that are consistent with God`s design for man. It`s consistent with human nature. It`s consistent with the lessons of history and the lessons of the ages. They found form in the Constitution, I think, and what our founding fathers believed. They understand that man can do great and wonderful things, but man is prone to error, and sometimes do terrible things. That too much power in too few hands is a dangerous thing, that power is a corrupting thing.

CHARLIE ROSE: In all of that, you didn`t mention abortion, gay rights — all things that have been part of recent presidential elections.

FRED THOMPSON: Those — well, you`re talking about different things there. Those are issues that are before us, which derive from principles. I don`t consider them to be…

CHARLIE ROSE: Principles.

FRED THOMPSON: … the first principles. But the principles are what guides you in coming to positions with regard to the issues. You know, the Declaration of Independence said that our basic rights come from God and not from man. The founders talked about, you know, life and liberty and the importance of that. And everything is based on those basic principles. And I take those principles, and you know, for example, I come to a pro-life conclusion there. And when we had issues, you know, for eight years when I was in the United States Senate about whether or not the federal government should be funding, for example, abortion-related activities and things of that nature, you know, the application of those principles in that instance told me the answer was no, properly.

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