Barack Obama promised during his campaign to "clean up both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue" with "the most sweeping ethics reform in history." He declared that his administration would "have the toughest ethics laws of any administration in history." But shouldn’t that moral commitment extend to all of those he appoints, too?
Recently, many people were nominated by Obama for high-ranking positions in his administration. Six of them were involved in tax evasion or other shady deals.
First, there was Bill Richardson for commerce secretary. Second, there was William J. Lynn III, slated for the No. 2 spot at the Defense Department. Third, there was Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s appointment. Fourth, there was Nancy Killefer’s nomination as the government’s first chief performance officer. Fifth, there was former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who would have led the Department of Health and Human Services. Sixth, there was the nomination of Rep. Hilda Solis for labor secretary.
And now we have lucky No. 7. Obama has nominated David Ogden to be the deputy attorney general, the second person in command in the Justice Department. According to the American Family Association, as an attorney in private practice, Ogden has filed briefs opposing parental notification before a minor’s abortion, the Children’s Internet Protection Act and the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act. He also has litigated many obscenity and pornography cases on behalf of clients such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Playboy, Penthouse and the largest distributor of hard-core pornographic movies.
Am I missing something? Remember when tax evasion was a crime? Remember when porn was bad? Remember when ethics actually mattered in our choices for politicians? Remember when there were expected moral standards for leaders? Remember when politicians were role models? (Now I’m dating myself!)
Call me Pollyannaish, but I believe leadership should be exemplary. I believe leadership should be above reproach. And if Obama can’t find ethical criteria for choosing other politicians, then let me pass along some advice from our Founding Fathers.
Ethics (the practice of morality) is the foundation of a healthy character, family and country. If ethics wane, the people — and eventually the nation — follow. As Founding Father Elias Boudinot once said, "If the moral character of a people once degenerate, their political character must soon follow."
Good morals precede good laws, which is why government isn’t much help here. Unless the people and their legislators are grounded in morality, the best of laws will be broken and the worst of laws will be made, legalizing immorality. All the vetting in the world won’t vanquish a corrupt human nature. That is why we can’t look to government to improve decency, civility and morality. For that, we need to look to another source.
John Adams put it well when he said: "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
Government isn’t the answer. And neither is education, at least without religion. As Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote, "Without religion I believe that learning does real mischief to the morals and principles of mankind."
Our Founders had a better answer than government or even education. God is the answer. God is the moral compass of America. Or he should be, if we ever want to restore morality in our homes and civility to our land. Our Founders believed that morals flowed from one’s accountability to God and that without God, moral anarchy would result.
To the Founders, religion was an essential buttress of free government. That is why Patrick Henry wrote: "The greatest pillars of all government and of social life: I mean virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible."
Charles Carroll, who also signed the Declaration of Independence, wrote, "Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion whose morality is so sublime and pure … are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments."
George Washington summarized it best in his farewell address: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. … Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
To encourage ethical living in youngsters, I recommend they read and practice "Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation," which George Washington wrote at age 14. To everyone else, I recommend Jacob Abbott’s "Ethics: An Early American Handbook," a reprint of an 1890 study on ethics. Humbly, chapters 5 and 6 in my new book, "Black Belt Patriotism," also are devoted to how to rebuild a civil and moral society according to our Founders’ vision. I lastly recommend Rushworth Kidder’s "Moral Courage." Better still, attend his seminar in Washington, D.C., April 7. And stay attuned to ethical issues in politics by frequenting the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s Web site (www.CitizensForEthics.org).
Of course, illegalities, immoralities and other ethics violations have existed in every age, including in our Founders’ age, but they weren’t as readily accepted and tolerated as they are today. Most led good, moral and decent lives. And most fought to elect those who would do the same, and so should we. Write your representatives today and demand, "Unethical nominees should not be appointed to govern our country!"
Mr. President, I’m doing my best as a patriot and a conservative to support you. But if your present choice of leaders is reflective of "the most sweeping ethics reform in history," then I respectfully would say, sir, you’re sweeping in the wrong direction.