Since the republican rise to power with the Contract On America in 1994 we have moved steadily away from ethics to a state of persistent deliberate deceit. Take for example Newt Gingrich’s witch hunt to impeach President Clinton. At the time it was a very serious matter. We were all to take the issue seriously and have grave concerns for our president’s actions. As a result, we as a nation spent the better part of two presidencies distracted. Focused on false ethics motivated by a hypocritical witch hunt. As Newt argued against President Clinton’s legitimacy because of his adulterous relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Newt himself had only a decade prior engaged in an adulterous relationship while his first wife lay in a hospital bed with cancer.
The damage to our nation from this incident was more than the hole it punched in our moral fabric, more than the courage it gave to the republicans who had gotten away with such a large act of hypocrisy, the impact was one of national distraction. Our nation did not accomplish as much as it could have during the 1990s had we not been distracted by this colossal witch hunt. Take for example, Osama BIn Laden. You may recall that President Clinton on several occasions tried to hit at the heart of Al Quaida with missile strikes. You may also recall that numerous republicans called these strikes an attempt to distract us from the Lewinsky scandal.
In retrospect, was the witch hunt to impeach President Clinton the best focus for the nation or perhaps should it have been Al Quaida?
A second example of great national significance is healthcare. We have seen healthcare costs sky rocket over recent decades. We knew then that our population was going to shift to a higher percentage of medicare beneficiaries with the movement of the baby-boomers towards retirement. In the midst of the witch hunt, way back in the 1990s, President Clinton tried to address the healthcare issue. The specifics of the approach could be debated, but one wonders how we could have a serious conversation about healthcare in the midst of such rancor. How much stronger would we be as a nation if we had taken steps then to get healthcare costs under control rather than impeach our president for what amounted to hyper-partisan political gamesmanship?
I cite these examples to highlight how a simple thing like the unwarranted, relentless pursuit of an impeachable offense, any offense, one will eventually turn up if we dig long enough, as a means of derailing a presidency has very real, very long lasting impacts on our nation. One can’t help but feel that the current party of “no” is repeating this same mistake.
As the right and the voices on the right have gained more and more influence, as they have moved the conversation to the absurd, we have become less ethical and less religious as a nation. The party of ethics has overseen the decrease of the middle class, they have fostered the growth of the poor while deliberately enacting policies to make the wealthy wealthier. They have fostered an atmosphere where rational thought, knowledge and science are seen as dubious conspiracy to reject religion. They have moved us away from a nation of laws to a nation of might makes right. Hour upon hour of ridiculous rhetoric on right wing radio has so divided us that we can barely speak to one another in a dignified and adult manner.
How can the right be the party of ethics when they amplify the worst in everyday citizens? The right’s rhetoric drives everyday Americans to manifest in such ugly ways that our nation is barely recognizable. Take for example the recent healthcare debate. The highly ethical right whipped the so called moral majority into such a fervor with nothing but lies and rhetoric that we found Americans treating each other so badly it was a national disgrace. We had townhall meetings and rallies with racist, hate filled signs and speeches. People were so enraged by lies they took as truth, that they literally were shouting down people with disabilities, people in wheelchairs, as they tried to tell their stories. In one case, one enraged American on the right threw money at a disabled man quietly sitting on the ground telling him “I’ll decide when to give you money” .
Is this the ethical America in which you want to live?
The right clamors about the size of government. They express their frustration with big government and how it isn’t the solution to our problems. On this we agree.
Government doesn’t have to do it all. Our corporations could pay a fair wage to their employees. They could forgo some profit and keep jobs in America rather than exploit cheap labor in developing countries.
The voices of the people could be listened to rather than pushed to the side by faux grassroots astroturfing like we see time and again from the right. The minds of the people could be filled with facts and useful information rather than lies and elaborate mistruths that get them in the street treating one another with contempt.
We could stop not only lying as a matter of habit, but we could also stop lying as a matter of state education policy. Take for example the Texas textbooks which literally revise and edit history to paint a picture the right would have us believe rather than history as it actually happened.
We could stop promoting scientific sounding ideology as a means of defeating actual science. Ethics are about what is right. Right behavior is informed by right information. Deliberate concoction of pseudo-scientific lies ensures a host of unethical action.
A nation so concerned with ethics would also be concerned with fairness in wages and fair treatment of all of it’s citizens. Yet we see an endless stream of rhetoric that is in direct contradiction to the facts. This rhetoric has seen a rise in wealth for the wealthiest among us that has only been seen once before, as we approached the great depression.
Similarly, an ethical nation would have no problem asking each to contribute their fair share. Those to whom so much is given, a corresponding amount would be asked. The wealthy and our corporations could pay their fair share of taxes rather than exploit loopholes and pay hundreds of attorneys and accountants to extract every last penny from our society they can.
An ethical nation would wage war only when necessary. An ethical nation would not only avoid unnecessary wars, but would not deliberately concoct lies in order to wage war under false pretenses.
A just ethical nation would respect it’s treaties. A just ethical nation would abide by it’s founding documents and founding ideals. A just and ethical nation that claims they “hate us for our freedom” would not torture prisoners of war, no matter the perceived threat.
A just and ethical nation is a nation of laws. A nation grounded in ethics would not hold prisoners indefinitely. A nation of laws, an ethical nation would follow those laws no matter who the prisoner, no matter what the crime.
Our nation’s future lies beyond policy. It lies beyond government. It lies beyond our economy, it lies in our character. Whether you believe the market is our salvation or the government, or some altogether different strategy, no path to the future can be had without an ethical people. So long as we promote lies. so long as we deliberately manipulate people to bring out the worst in them, we will not be an ethical society. As our ethics decline so too will our nation. Conservative or liberal, the only path forward is one of ethics, one of laws, one of truth. Engaging in meaningful dialog to move the nation forward from the right or the left can’t happen so long as our new national ethic is purposeful lies.