Those ideological poles are: 1) the belief that the people need government to take care of them economically, and therefore the government must do more to redistribute wealth; 2) the belief that the government should confine itself to protecting life, liberty, and property so that free people may achieve new heights of prosperity.
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. acknowledges his supporters on arrival at a campaign rally, Tuesday, March 8, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Americans who want the government to actively manage the distribution of wealth have their hero in Sanders. Those who prefer the traditional America of free enterprise and a government to discharging the few functions stipulated in Article I of our Constitution have their paragon in Cruz.
At present, odds makers may still predict that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will win the Democratic and Republican nominations respectively. If they do, American voters will be deprived of the opportunity to make a clear choice between the two competing philosophies of government.
Whereas Sanders and Cruz have proven that they believe fervently in the ideas they espouse, Clinton and Trump are dogged by the uncomfortable sense that they are spouting whatever is expedient. Ideological clarity is obscured by the problematical nature of the Clinton and Trump candidacies.
If Clinton is the Democratic candidate, we will have hanging over our heads the troubling prospect of her being indicted for felonies committed while serving as secretary of state. We would never know how many Americans would vote against her for her progressive policy goals or because of her legal challenges. In addition, she would bring with her all the baggage of the machinations of the Clinton Foundation and who knows what else? Scandal follows Clinton like the dust cloud constantly hovers around the "Peanuts" character, Pigpen.
Then there is the "first woman president" issue. Would people vote for her, not so much for her position on issues or to follow the first black president with the first female president? As one who regards Margaret Thatcher as a one of my leading political heroines, I would welcome the day when Americans can elect an American Thatcher. It would be a shame, though, to have this year's critical election decided by the symbolic issue of Clinton's gender instead of the substantial issue of what kind of government we want.
J Pat Carter/Getty Images
Trump may be an even more problematical candidate than Clinton. The biggest problem is uncertainty over what he really believes. It is worrisome enough that he simply reacts impulsively and simplistically. Everything he says seems ad hoc instead of reflecting a well thought out, coherent political vision. He believes in promoting the Trump brand, but beyond that, what?
Seeing him recently talking about one of his property developments, I couldn't help but wonder, does he plan to continue the development business on the side as president, or would the presidency be the side job for him? Indeed, his not-ready-for-prime-time campaign organization indicates that he probably never expected to be the leading contender for the GOP nomination -- as one of his erstwhile top strategists now avers.
A large part of Trump's popularity is the perception that he is an outsider. True, he has never held elected office, but when it comes to playing the political game for his own benefit, giving large donations to any politician, regardless of party, who might be able to bestow a favor of cronyism in return, Trump will do it.
By contrast, Cruz, a Tea Party favorite, wants to dismantle the corrupt politics of cronyism, as he showed in Iowa with his stance against the federal ethanol mandate. In fact, Cruz's status as a genuine outsider is indicated by the reluctance of any of his Republican colleagues in the Senate to endorse him. Even those who largely agree with Cruz resent the fact that he wouldn't conduct business as usual in the Senate, but instead would infuriate his colleagues by taking principled conservative stands.
In this strange political year, it seems likely we could end up with two very problematical candidates whose personal foibles come to dominate the campaign. That would be a shame.
There is much more at stake in this election than the personal ambitions of two craven individuals who seek to add the highest office in the land to their resumes for personal gratification. A vote for Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruz would be a statement about which cause --bigger government or more liberty -- Americans favor. I hope something happens so that Americans can have that clear choice.
Mark Hendrickson is Fellow for Economic and Social Policy with the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.
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