Far too many people have become unacceptably cynical about the issue of integrity in politics, and it is having disastrous consequences. Only the scofflaws and reprobates benefit from such an unraveling of our ethical sensitivities.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised to find that I believe this phenomenon is occurring largely on the political left today, and no, I won’t violate the very premise of my piece and lazily concede that both sides are equally culpable. It’s inevitable that the side that believes in moral relativism and that the end justifies the means would lie far more often.
Indeed, the right generally believes in and adheres to higher standards, which is one reason it’s always at a disadvantage in the political arena. Test it sometime; challenge someone to a fight using Marquess of Queensberry rules while your opponent is under no constraints.
Consider the claim by Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, in 2012 that someone with investment firm Bain Capital had told him that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney hadn’t paid taxes for the previous 10 years. This was the reason, Reid charged, that Romney wouldn’t release his tax returns.
This was a particularly effective lie because President Obama’s strategy centered on depicting Romney as an uncaring rich person with no concern for the middle class or the poor. It paired nicely with Romney’s statement at a supposedly private meeting that he had no chance for the vote of 47 percent of the population. When added to news about Romney’s vast personal wealth, his connections with Bain Capital and his proposal to reduce the tax burden, including on the top income earners, it was potentially devastating.
Reid refused to provide evidence for his charge, and when challenged on it, he defiantly taunted Romney. “Let him prove he has paid taxes, because he has not.”
Now, two-plus years later and after we’ve suffered through another couple of long years of the Obama presidency, Reid is virtually admitting he lied and not only is unrepentant but appears to be proud of himself for doing so.
When CNN’s Dana Bash told Reid many considered his baseless claim to be “McCarthyite,” he replied: “They can call it whatever they want. Romney didn’t win, did he?” In other words, it worked, so it was morally justified.
That’s Reid’s response. How about the White House’s?
Fox News reporter James Rosen asked White House press secretary Josh Earnest whether he or Obama would condemn Reid’s lie as conduct unbecoming of one of our highest elected officials. Earnest said, “Not for something that’s 3 years old.”
I’ve heard liberal commentators dismiss this episode with their usual response: “We all know that people often lie in politics. Both parties are equally guilty of this type of behavior.”
I am so tired of the left’s claims of moral equivalence, which ultimately lead to a degeneration of our ethical standards in governance. I’m also weary of the intellectual laziness and cynicism that cause so many, including on the right, to let this type of statement stand, unchallenged. If you can assert this cynical defense at every turn, then there is nothing sacred anymore and nothing matters.
If, as an electorate, we are going to be so cynical as to pretend that all politicians lie equally, especially about the things that matter most, then we might as well give them our blessing and a license to do whatever they please.
People should not invoke “politics” as a defense on questions pertaining to integrity. It should be an exacerbating factor; if you lie in politics, it’s even worse because politics is governance, which substantially affects our lives, our liberties and our pursuit of happiness.
Moreover, it’s one thing to say “politicians often lie” as a sheer assertion of fact. It’s altogether another to say it with the purpose of excusing those lies and saying truth doesn’t matter, and sadly, that is the context in which the statement is usually made.
None of us really believes that lies in politics don’t matter. Otherwise, everyone on both sides of the aisle wouldn’t moralize so much about it. Why else would Democrats have expended so much energy engaging in the lie that George W. Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Hey, all politicians do it. What difference, at this point, does it make?
But when you embrace moral relativism, you can actually elevate lying to a virtue, as Reid does when he boasts that his lie helped Obama win.
This is an insidious path we’re on, for when you effectively glorify lying in politics, you are disenfranchising the people. You are justifying your lie based on your arrogant belief that you know better than the people what is in their best interests or, more likely, revealing that you just don’t care. Consider Obama’s whispering to the Russian official that he would be able to be more flexible on missile defense after his re-election. Translation: I’m pretending to be a hawk now because I know that the American people won’t elect me if I’m not, but after I’m elected, I’ll do what I want, not what I know they want, because my will is more important than the people’s.
Shame on any of us who lazily or recklessly reject that truth in politics is a virtue, because that is the very type of attitude that is undermining our republic. It’s unacceptable.