Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Search For Political Ethics



"Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends..."







Once simply part of an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer song, this now appears to be the theme song for my never-ending quest to find the qualities worth seeking in a political candidate. Quite frankly, Indiana Jones (who also just keeps coming back) has had better luck finding stuff than I have. (Then again, perhaps objects of art and history are less rare than such qualities in political candidates.) Undaunted by this however (OK, maybe a little bit), I am back at this search in the hopes of bringing it to a quick end.

A few weeks back, we looked the concept of sound moral judgment as being a good and necessary quality to seek, and discovered that in fact that what we were looking for was an ethical person rather than a moral one. After waiting to let the dust settle a bit, I decided to take up the subject of the quality of ethical behavior as one that a candidate should have and see if this time we were on the right side of the line between morals and ethics. Continuing this journey with our handy, dandy reference book, the Meriam Webster dictionary, we find the following:


Conforming to accepted standards of conduct - I'm not sure that I like this definition at all. Some pretty stupid, contradictory, and down right evil standards of conduct have been accepted throughout history. As much as I think that there is money to be made in bringing back the Salem witch trials as a "pay per view event", I think I would like something more to use as a goal worth seeking.

Involving or expressing moral approval or disapproval - This definition sounds like judgment by way of the town busybody. I'm afraid that I have to believe that this one falls into the same category as our first definition, and is therefore equally flawed. I hve to believe that we need a consistent, higher standard than anything as changing as moral approval.


A System of moral values: a theory or set of moral principles - This definition strikes a little closer to the mark. Much like the Declaration of Independence did for the Federal Government, a candidate should have a set of principles which guide them and a set of values to fall back on. We still need to be careful of that word moral though, it's a dangerous double-edged sword that often seems to have no master.

The principles of conduct governing an individual or a group - This is ultimately what we want a candidate or a political party to have, assuming of course that we agree with such principles. At least then, we can debate something of substance, something that has some relevance in this process. Whether we want to use The Ten Commandments or The Constitution as the guide, we need to know what it is that an elected official will use when deciding right and wrong.


This whole morals vs ethics thing has come up in recent days on a number of blogs that I read. As a guy who spent a good part of his college days sitting in a mind-numbing array of philosophy courses (and yes, it is part of the reason that I ended up this way), I treat this with a great deal of seriousness. Being moral allowed an Egyptian pharoah to slay first born children, allowed Vikings to toss prisoners into pits of starving wolves for entertainment, allowed Romans to have human beings to fight to the death for entertainment, and allowed people to "own" other people throughout most of history. This moving landscape of ethical relativism has written off a surprising amount of stupdidity and evil in the name of moral behavior and I refuse to accept it.

Ethics on the other hand is an unchanging, but not rigid standard of right and wrong behavior. Such things as lying, cheating, stealing, and imposing our will on our fellow man by use of force are always going to be wrong. There will always be exceptions to such rules, dictated by the often dire needs of the moment; but these should be rare and performed knowing that even such exceptions carry personal consequences for those involved.
Well at the very least, I think that we have finally found something to seek out teeth into. If a candidate has no other qualities, perhaps it is essential that they have this one. But enough of this. When next we take this up (I mean I take it up, I wouldn't want to blame you for any part of this), I will try to sum up some of what has come before and draw some conclusions from our efforts.

Note: Forget the crystal skull, what I would really like Indiana Jones to find is a political candidate with anything "in" his skull, but maybe that's just me...

12 comments:

Hooda Thunkit said...

Tim,

You seem to be unusually tortured by this quest for a suitable leader, and I can understand that. Especially when there is no clear evidence of decent, moral and/or ethical leadership at either the state or federal levels to serve as an example for the cities and towns/townships all across this country.

This is indeed a a time of moral/ethical famine.

And sadly, it will probably get a whole lot worse before it becomes noticeably better.

I will follow your quest with great interest...

Tim Higgins said...

hooda,

Your intelligence and astute judgment is again apparent. Have no fear on the apparent "Walk Through The Valley of Death" that I have taken. I am going to try and sum up some of the previous postings in a couple of weeks, and then pull the blanket over my head until election day. It has become too scary a world out there.

Lisa Renee said...

Tim, an honest post worthy of an honest comment. I find myself becoming more of a skeptic the longer I blog about politics, and the better I get to know some of our elected officials. Perhaps conjuring up that "familiarity breeds contempt" scenario.

In a more naive time I believed a few of them were "friends" which then led to the wake up call that a few were smarter than I was in trying to manipulate me and what I blogged or didn't blog about. I realized it before my vacation from blogging but the revelation that it was a now or never moment in breaking free from that if I was going to be able to look myself in the mirror was something I faced.

I do believe there are some that do believe in the concept of ethics, the problem is that not enough of us hold them to that. So, when they are tempted...which most are or will be at one point in time, they don't fear us. Recently when Obama made the comment that he knew women who had concerns with his presidency would "get over it" because it was him or McCain and he knew we'd never support McCain it was a double edged sword moment. The arrogance that he would say it versus the sad truth that he was probably right.

However, some of us will continue to be tired of the "lessor of two evils" decisions and will not do as expected. Some of us, will struggle with that decision, not wanting to give up yet inside wondering if what we know in our hearts is the way it should be will ever be that way.

Tim Higgins said...

Lisa,

Kind words indeed from one so involved in the political world. That battle that you have to fight and the fine line that you must walk are indeed a difficult path, and not one for the unwary.

I have chosen a place in the peanut gallery, and a simpler road as a consequence. My perception however is that many of these people believe that they are doing the "right" or "moral" thing. That doesn't make them bad, just wrong on occasion.

It makes us wrong as well when we don't tell them when we think they are. The cult of personality has taken over politics and any negative comment has become blasphemy. Until we change the nature, not the subject of discussion, we will remain stuck with what we have.

At least you are taking the time to make a polite and honest effort to be an instrument of change. In such an atmosphere, a fair debate of principles can always take place, and disagreement need not be acrimonius.

Lisa Renee said...

It makes us wrong as well when we don't tell them when we think they are. The cult of personality has taken over politics and any negative comment has become blasphemy. Until we change the nature, not the subject of discussion, we will remain stuck with what we have.

Very true, which is difficult to do at times. I've learned that first hand.

Roland Hansen said...

Wow! There's not much I can add to the comments already here.

But, I will, anyways.

Tim has it right. Hooda Thunkit is on target. It seems that Lisa Renee is now at the point I was just over a decade ago after having been into the political scene for a quarter century.

And I need to reinforce the following comments of Tim Higgens and Lisa Renee:

Tim:It makes us wrong as well when we don't tell them when we think they are. The cult of personality has taken over politics and any negative comment has become blasphemy. Until we change the nature, not the subject of discussion, we will remain stuck with what we have.

Lisa Renee: Very true, which is difficult to do at times. I've learned that first hand.

I have been outspoken and have publicly pointed out in personal and public verbal, written, and electronic statements the comments, positions, and actions of politicos with which I take exception.

The result of my outspokeness has been going from the political "in" circle to being put on an invisible political "blacklist." The personal consequences I have experienced include: being removed from the Lucas County Democratic Party Executive Committee by Paula Ross, being ostracized by Democratic Party Headquarters thereafter; professional career and political retributions from then-County Commissioner Sandy Isenberg along with her operatives and from then- Lucas County School Board Member Wade Kapszukiewicz and his cohorts; and, yes indeed even outright threats and other intimidations to me and my family.

Tim Higgins said...

Roland,

You make me grateful for my ability to travel under the radar in this town. I had no idea that (ir)rational political discourse was a bloodsport in Toledo.

Roland Hansen said...

Tim,

Radar be damned.
Man the torpedoes.
Full speed ahead!

Signed,
The anonymous Loose Cannon

Anonymous said...

Roland has been unfairly targeted in this town as is noted by his comment
"yes indeed even outright threats and other intimidations to me and my family." Speaking for myself,I have been verbally abused in the political arena. All because I speak the truth when asked a question.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, that was extremely valuable and interesting...I will be back again to read more on this topic.

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Timothy W Higgins said...

Jules,

I have no problem with using information from this blog as long as due credit is given for it.

I am always a bit leery of anonymous comments however, as I have had bad experiences in the past with them.