Instead of working on all the projects I’m late on, I’ve be re-reading Macaulay’s History of England, which remains amazingly topical.
For example, after the deposition of James II, Parliament required all Church of England clergy (which included all the fellows of Oxford and Cambridge colleges) to swear their loyalty to William and Mary, on pain of losing their jobs. On the Tory principles of non-resistance to royal authority, which the Church of England had been preaching since the Restoration, this was hard — or, rather, impossible — to justify, since James was still alive and claiming the crown. But the argument that non-resistance would promote civil peace hardly applied when the crown was actually in the hands of someone other than the hereditary monarch. That left the ministers in a tight corner.
Some violent and acrimonious Whigs triumphed ostentatiously and with merciless insolence over the perplexed and divided priesthood…Had thousands of clergymen, who had so loudly boasted of the unchangeable loyalty of their order, really meant only that their loyalty would remain unchangeable till the next change of fortune?
These reproaches, though perhaps not altogether unjust, were unseasonable. The wiser and more moderate Whigs, sensible that the throne of William could not stand firm if it had not a wider basis than their own party, abstained at this conjuncture from sneers and invectives, and exerted themselves to remove the scruples and to soothe the irritated feelings of the clergy … it was much better that they should swear for the most flimsy reason which could be devised by a sophist than that they should not swear at all.
It worked: more than 95% of the clergy (including, of course, the Vicar of Bray) took the oaths, thus fatally weakening the Jacobite party.
This incident, and Macaulay’s comment, called to mind the recantation of Matthew Dowd, a Democrat-turned-Bush-loyalist who was the chief political strategist for the Bush re-election campaign and is now saying that John Kerry was right about Iraq. He’s one of many formerly loyal Bushies who have either found enlightenment or, finding the water over the gunn’ls, have decided to follow the rats.
That gives the Democrats the same two options the Whigs had in 1690. They can “triumph ostentatiously and with merciless insolence” over those who recant (here, for example or here), or they can encourage future defections by treating current defectors as heroes who have decided to put loyalty to country ahead of loyalty to party and faction. It seems to me, as it seemed to Macaulay, that the right choice is almost self-evident.
Notice that the question isn’t whether the defectors in fact have the right motivations or not. Presumably some do, and some don’t. The question is what Democrats and progressives should say in public about these folks. Sarcasm is always fun, but it isn’t always strategic.