First things first: it’s excellent news that Douglas Kmiec, a largely unreconstructed conservative lawyer (teaches law at Pepperdine, was a co-chair of the Romney campaign) of some eminence (ran the Office of Legal Counsel under Reagan and Bush the First, was Dean of Catholic University Law School), has endorsed Barack Obama, done so eloquently, and done so with his eyes wide open to Obama’s policy positions. Kmiec hasn’t made himself any friends among conservatives, so liberals should try to find nice things to say about him.
Mike O’Hare thinks that Kmiec has has reasoning backward: from loyalties to principles, rather than the other way around. Like Jonathan Kulick, I think that Mike’s anaysis misreads Kmiec. For “As a Republican, I believe … ” I think one should read “Consistent with the principles that lead me to adhere to the Republican Party, I believe … “
In context, Kmiec’s rhetorical use of the phrase is designed to remind the readers he wants to persuade that he’s one of them, sharing their commitments, and nonetheless prefers a candidate who doesn’t share those commitments.
But that aside, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to acknowledge an obligation to one’s core tradition. If I were to say, “As a liberal, I believe in freedom of the press,” that wouldn’t mean merely that liberalism’s support for press freedom led me to become a liberal, but that my adherence to the liberal tradition commits me to believing that the press should be free even if at a particular moment I’m tempted to want to suppress a journal I think noxious. Of course the presumption of consistency is rebuttable, but it requires a rebuttal.
If this were a question of an artistic tradition rather than a political/intellectual one, Mike would be the first to remind us that no work of art (and no thought) originates ex nihilo; we’re all standing on the shoulders of giants, or at least body-surfing on the shoulders of crowds, and they’re particular giants and particular crowds.