by Lowman S. Henry | August 25, 2008

Democrat/Republican PA convention delegates differ

President Abraham Lincoln, in the shadows of the Civil War, proclaimed American-style freedom to be the last best hope of man on Earth. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in his inaugural address promised America would “pay any price, bear any burden … in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” At the height of the cold war President Ronald Reagan reminded us that America is a “shining city on a hill” to all those who thirst for liberty and freedom.

As America prepares to elect a successor to Lincoln, Kennedy and Reagan the question arises whether or not our historical tradition of serving the cause of liberty, freedom and democracy throughout the world will survive as either our nation’s moral calling or as official government policy.

Seven years of fighting what appears to be an endless “war on terror” has drained America’s appetite for carrying on that tradition. Not only have we expended significant blood and treasure in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but major threats loom on the horizon. The long-term potential of Iran to join the club of nuclear nations, and the recent awakening of the Russia bear as evidenced by the invasion of Georgia, present major challenges to a war weary nation.

Throughout all the challenges of the past seven years President George W. Bush has remained resolute. And he has paid the price. Pilloried by his adversaries, and at times ill-served by his subordinates, the President has not backed away from achieving victory in Iraq or in fulfilling America’s historical role as the torch-bearer of freedom.

Will either John McCain or Barack Obama pick up the torch? And, even if one or both want to, will voters let them? Should it continue to be the goal of America to spread democracy throughout the world? A recent survey of Pennsylvania Delegates and Alternate Delegates to the Republican and Democratic National conventions yielded some insight into the thoughts of party political activists. If it were up to the Democrats the flame would be extinguished, while Republicans would embrace the calling of Lincoln and Reagan.

However much the modern day Democratic Party might celebrate its ties to the golden days of Camelot, you have to wonder if the current crop of delegates would give its Presidential nomination to John Kennedy. Fifty-seven percent of the delegates and alternates from the Pennsylvania delegation said spreading Democracy throughout the world should not be a goal of American foreign policy. Apparently they are not willing to “bear any burden.”

Republicans appear much more willing to embrace the historical ideology of Lincoln and Reagan. Eighty-three percent say America should have as a prime foreign policy goal the spreading of Democracy throughout the world. While that might sound good, 53% of the GOP delegation said the United States is presently shouldering too much of the load in its role as world policeman. Thus, even among Republicans there is a certain amount of war weariness.

The loss of fervor in defending and promoting the nation’s core principles may largely be rooted in politics. For example, 100% of the Democratic delegation says the war in Iraq was a foreign policy mistake. By contrast, 74% of the Republican delegation views Iraq as a necessary foreign policy action. Likewise, 95% of Democrat delegates and alternates believe the policies of the Bush Administration have made the United States less secure while 84% of Republican delegates and alternates think those policies have made the nation more secure.

Elections are, of course, political. But they are also the mechanism by which we affirm or change the core underpinnings of what we are as a nation. The views of the respective Pennsylvania delegations are reflective of the positions taken by their party’s nominees. Thus the question of whether 200 years of historical dedication to the preservation and spread of democracy will continue, or go into decline is one that will be decided by voters this November.

President Reagan reminded us that: “We cannot escape our destiny, nor should we try to do so. The leadership of the free world was thrust upon us two centuries ago in that little hall of Philadelphia. In the days following World War II, when the economic strength and power of America was all that stood between the world and the return to the dark ages, Pope Pius XII said, “The American people have a great genius for splendid and unselfish actions. Into the hands of America God has placed the destinies of an afflicted mankind.”

Will America now embrace its destiny, or will it shrink from it?