Putting Principle Before Party

In the made-for-TV-movie Brian’s Song (1971), we gain a glimpse of two very different men who become inseparable friends in life and devoted to one another in death. Brian Piccolo (James Caan) and Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) played for the Chicago Bears. The depth of their friendship was tested when Piccolo developed cancer and died. While Brian’s Song was a great sports movie, it’s underlying theme expressed what really counted in life and death, and it wasn’t football. The movie was based on Sayer’s autobiography “I Am Third,” a rather odd title for a book until you understand it’s a statement about priorities: “The Lord is first, my friends are second, and I am third.”

When I survey the political landscape today, Sayer’s autobiography comes to mind. Political party loyalty should be no higher than fourth on anyone’s list of priorities. Given what we know of politics and politicians today, it deserves a ranking no higher than 20th. [product id="56" align="right" size="small"]

Zell Miller put family above his Party. Later in his speech, he put God above all. Miller reached a turning point in his political life when he saw that he had been wrong on abortion and the political party that made his career and defined his ideals but had strayed from its founding principles. Jimmy Carter accused Miller of betraying “our trust.” Who’s the “our”? The Democrat Party. To whom was Miller being “disloyal”? The Democrat Party. Jimmy Carter believes that Party comes before principle. Gale Sayers would not agree.

There’s another person who would be shocked by Jimmy Carter’s blind loyalty to a political party over eternal principles of right and wrong–Martin Niemöller. He was a decorated German submarine commander in World War I and a committed nationalist. Like so many in the early days of Hitler’s rise to power, Niemoeller saw in Germany’s new leader hope for the nation. In his autobiography From U-Boat to Pulpit, he included his belief that “Hitler’s triumph had at last brought light to Germany. He was sure it would bring about the ‘National Revival’ for which he himself had fought so long.”[1] Many people believed as Niemöller did. Hitler was viewed as the savior of Germany, “fulfilling a divine mission.”

Adolf Hitler did not want divided loyalties. There was no “I am third.” It was only who was first. There were no lesser loyalties. To accomplish the brainwashing task, Hitler developed the Führerprinzip, or “leader principle” that established that he was the only person to whom Party members swore loyalty unto death. Here is one of its provisions: [product id="1493" align="left" size="small"]

The authority of the Fuehrer is complete and all-embracing; it unites in itself all the means of political direction; it extends into all fields of national life; it embraces the entire people, which is bound to the Fuehrer in loyalty and obedience.

Nazism was all about “uncritical loyalty” to Hitler and the party. No exceptions. Heinrich Himmler became Reich Leader of the SS in 1929. The SS motto was Meine Ehre heisst Treue (“Loyalty is My Honor”).

At first, Niemoeller was a willing party loyalist, but “less than two years after the publication of his autobiography and the Nazi press praise for the book, Niemöller had become completely disillusioned.”[2] He chose principle over party. How did he express his change of mind? He used his pulpit; that is, he spoke about his prior loyalty and denounced the party that he had supported. Sound familiar? Although the Democrat Party is not the Nazi Party, the belief in first principles over loyalty to a political party is truth for the ages. And it doesn’t matter what the party is. Of course, no political party is perfect, and it never will be. But if the time comes when your voice is not being heard, it’s time to take your loyalties elsewhere.

Endnotes:[1] William L. Shirer, 20th Century Journey: The Nightmare Years–1930-1940 (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1984), 152.
[2] Shirer, 20th Century Journey: The Nightmare Years–1930-1940, 152.

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