The Corner

God Runs Deep

Something more really needs to be said about this matter of putting God back into the Democratic platform. Of course the whole display was telling and embarrassing, and we can only hope that the Romney people will play again and again the scene of Democrats shouting “no,” trying to keep God and Jerusalem out of their platform. That was a flash revealing the true soul of this party. And so this was not simply a matter of solving the problem by artfully getting one reference to God into the platform (the suggestion that people should be able to realize their “God-given potential”). The issue cuts deeper than that, and Romney muffed the chance to touch the deeper point. All he managed to say was that the controversy that rocked the Democratic convention “suggests a party which is increasingly out of touch with the mainstream of American people. I think this party is veering further and further away to an extreme wing that Americans don’t recognize it.” But the matter surely runs deeper than that. If he had touched that deeper point, he could have set off tremors that would resonate for days to come.

For it’s not a matter of one word more or less, one or more mentions of God. The real heart of the issue is that most of the people in that hall, in the Democratic convention, really don’t accept the understanding of rights contained in the Declaration of Independence: The Declaration appealed first to “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” as the very ground of our natural rights. The drafters declared that “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal,” and then immediately: that “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” George Bush was not embarrassed to insist that these are “God-given rights,” as opposed to rights that we had merely given to ourselves. For if we had given them to ourselves, we could as readily take them back or remove them. Newt Gingrich made this point during the primaries; it’s not as though the point were so esoteric as to seem mystical or somehow remote from the understanding of ordinary folks. And Paul Ryan touched on this understanding of natural rights during his own speech at the convention. He could surely respond even now by putting the question to Obama and the Democrats, and putting it in the terms of a dare and wager: If we took a survey on this matter, we bet that about 70–80 percent or more of the delegates at the Democratic convention would be too embarrassed to say that these rights were given to us by our Creator, the Author of those Laws of Nature. And we could bet that, in contrast, about 80 percent of the delegates at the Republican convention would assent to that proposition without a trace of hesitation. Why not put the question so that the heart of the matter does not fade?

This is not a move that seems to spring from the mind or imagination of Mr. Romney. Paul Ryan, though, could plant the question that lingers to irritate and embarrass the Democrats for days and weeks to come. He could simply register his own bet that the Democrats do reject the understanding in the Declaration, and he could dare the Gallups and Rasmussens to take the survey. We’ve already had some indication that this is a kind of tarbaby for the Democrats: The more they try to “fix” the problem, the more they are drawn into it. Why should we deprive them of this salutary exercise? Why deprive ourselves of this innocent entertainment, and the public of a display that may be even more revealing yet?

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence Emeritus at Amherst College, the founder of the James Wilson Institute on Natural Rights & the American Founding, and the architect of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Acts.

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