Home > SD 2014 Ballot, South Dakota > Reagan’s 11th Commandment and the US Senate race in South Dakota

Reagan’s 11th Commandment and the US Senate race in South Dakota

November 25, 2013

During election seasons it is not uncommon to hear Ronald Reagan’s “11th Commandment” invoked in the primary process (this ‘Commandment’ was actually created by Gaylord Parkinson):

Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.

I believe this often-touted unofficial commandment within the Republican Party to be misunderstood by many that invoke it. And I believe misconceptions of this commandment are showing in the current US Senate race in South Dakota (full disclosure I am openly supporting Stace Nelson in this race, but my views on the ’11th Commandment have remained the same for at least 20 years).

Looking back at Reagan’s career he was constantly questioning and attacking the political policies of other Republicans. This was especially true after he started to follow the ’11th commandment’. Reagan had no problem at all questioning the philosophical problems with Ford’s brand of conservatism or Ford’s less than conservative actions taken as President. But there is one line he did not cross when battling it out with Ford: Reagan never made any personal attacks upon Ford. All of Reagan’s attacks at Ford were based upon actions taken by Ford or policy stances touted by Ford. These were NOT personal attacks and thus did not break the 11th commandment. If Reagan had not taken these actions it is quite likely Ford would have won the ’76 Presidential election; and even more likely that Reagan would never have become President in ’80. A short-term loss of one Presidential election made for a much stronger Republican Party in the 80’s.

During the current US Senate race in South Dakota I have seen many people invoking the 11th commandment in regards to Stace Nelson’s attacks upon Mike Rounds record and actions. I believe invoking Reagan’s 11th Commandment in this situation is completely unfounded. Yes, Stace is attacking the record of Rounds during his tenure as a legislator and Governor. However none of these are personal attacks; Rather they are invoked in much the same way Reagan did against Ford. As long as Stace keeps these attacks about policy, actions, and records it would be hard to say he is speaking ill of Rounds.

The election process is a time to hold politicians accountable for their past performance. Since Rounds has a fairly long political career there is a lot of performance to hold accountable (good or bad). Primaries are meant in part to create debate within the party for the direction of the Republican Party. Open debate simply cannot happen if candidates are not allowed to discuss the records or policies of their opponent.

It is also worth mentioning that any candidate choosing to attack the record and policies of another candidate had better tread carefully. There is sometimes a thin line between policy attacks and personal attacks. Words much be chosen carefully. Candidates choosing to attack the records or policies of another candidate should also make sure they are offering solutions to the shortcomings of the opponents viewpoints. I have yet to see any attacks Stace has made upon Rounds that I would consider personal. But if that day happens I will likely message him to let him know what I see and ask him to realign with no speaking ill of an opponent personally.

One final thought: the 11’th Commandment should not be used only for Republicans against Republicans. It should be used by all politicians when dealing with opponents from inside or outside their party. Policy debates are healthy and should be encouraged. Yet at the same time I believe all politicians should try to keep it about issues and policies and keep personal attacks away from public eyes. If that were to be followed I wonder how many prior elections would have ended differently?

PS. For examples of real personal political attacks I would watch this video:

  1. November 25, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    Ken, The SDGOP Chairman has pointed out that records are exactly what we should be judging the candidates on. Any “attacking” being done against Rounds or Rhoden, is being done by their records on their current claims of being conservatives. 🙂

    • Ken Santema
      November 25, 2013 at 8:35 pm

      I agree with you on that completely. I just fear 11th commandment will be used as a way to quiet any opposition to current status quo politicians.

  2. Drew
    November 25, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    Spot on Ken! Very good insight and the video was also quite entertaining!

    • Ken Santema
      November 26, 2013 at 8:51 am

      I think that video puts ‘attacks’ in perspective. It’s amazing what politicians used to say about each other.

  3. Lora
    November 25, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    Define “Republican”….

    • Ken Santema
      November 26, 2013 at 8:54 am

      That I think is the big question. Right now the Republican Party is going through a phase where that question needs to once again be answered. Personally a Republican is someone that believes in the limited government principles as set forth by the founding fathers. But that is a cliff note version. I think the US Senate primary and the SD Governor Primary is a good chance to provide answers to this question.

  1. November 25, 2013 at 11:34 pm
  2. November 25, 2013 at 11:37 pm
  3. November 27, 2013 at 8:03 pm
  4. April 13, 2014 at 3:55 pm
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