Friday, March 4, 2016

There Is Nothing Moral About Letting Trump, Cruz or Rubio Win The Election As You Preen In Your Purity

Marcia Pally's piece at Religion Dispatches about the issues of purity vs. political effectiveness in the nomination fight between the supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is about as insightful as any I've read.  She puts it into a stark choice, one which every politician who wins office, no matter how ethical they are will face.

You want an effective leader to put policies in place, but the very experience that makes politicians effective also tends to make them less ethical and less likely to support the policies you want.

That is a choice which our Constitution and the laws that have been made under it makes inevitable. There has not been a president who was not, at one point or another, morally compromised.  Some of the least compromised, such as Jimmy Carter, were considered ineffective presidents and were not returned to the office.  The most ethical candidates, of whom George McGovern was as good an example as any, don't win elections except in the most rare of instances.  The most successful presidents have never been the most ethical.

The last Democratic king of clout was Lyndon Johnson. Twenty-four years in Congress and knowing where all the skeletons were buried gave his famous “Johnson treatment” that unfakable menace. He is purported to have said that he didn’t trust a man unless he had the man’s pecker in his pocket—which he often did. That got civil rights legislation and Great Society programs through a Congress far more racist and sexist than today’s.

And, say what you will about Hillary and, more so, Bill Clinton, their ethical compromises are minor compared to those of Lyndon Johnson and his paled when compared to those of any of the Republicans who became president after him.

The greatest moral failure of those who strike an absolute pose for purity is that they enable the very worst of those who will gain office.  Their purity is entirely metaphysical and theoretical, the results of their pose are all too real.   That is the ugly truth of it.  Democracy is only less prone to produce evil than every other system, The People, the theoretical power in democracy are able to be corrupted, are prone to all of the evils that the worst monarchs and despots are, the gamble of democracy is that, on average, those inclinations will SOMETIMES be defeated by enough people either seeing them as wrong or not in their interest.   Pally's article makes a number of rather excellent observations about how the ancient Greeks and Hebrew scriptures rather exhaustively document that human and social propensity.

The problem of effective power and ineffective purity goes back to the Greeks and to the canny authors of the Bible, who can be read in a number of ways. One is to look at the plain words on the page (an approach that emerged from Protestantism’s mandate that the text be read by each person for herself), while another is not to read it as a surface text—as a set of instructions to carry out—but as a “problem set” to work ethics through. Readers who take this latter line find quite a bit on the power-purity problem.

Consider David, about whom the book of Samuel has nothing good to say. A power broker, warrior, murderer, adulterer, liar and schemer, David is nevertheless left by God as the premier secular power. He’s effective but smarmy. Nathan, the prophet, is the enduring moral voice. The political and moral spheres are split, and the bottom line is this: we could act ethically in the political sphere, which would mean better politics and less conflict between that world and our moral standards. But as long as we don’t, we will be split. The gap between moral aims and politics is the outcome of the societies and politics we make.

That point was clear already in Judges, where increasing political chaos led to calls for a stabilizing king who would supposedly stanch the mayhem. 

I'll break in to say that we could learn a lot from a serious reading of Judges as we descend into exactly that.  If the Republicans continue to win, if the regime of media debasement of people, appealing to their weakness, paranoia, their basest wants and desires for the profit of those who own the media, Judges is probably a good prediction of where that leads.  And the solution that is offered by the media - Donald Trump like Ronald Reagan is a product of the unfettered media, entertainment - is not democracy appealing to the best in people, it is facism,  American style.

But involvement in mayhem, even to quiet it, embroils Saul in turf wars, vendettas, and Nixonian paranoia. It is again the prophet Samuel who is the bearer of ethics, the first in the line of “prophetic voices” for justice from outside the seats of power. Politics and ethics are again split—as they remain into the New Testament. It is because they are at odds that Paul says we are to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and turn to the important task of building the religious community as a “contrast society” to the injustice of the political sphere.

Grassroots organizing and voting are opportunities for the exercise of the prophetic voice, efforts to bring ethics to public policy from outside government. Which returns us to the power-purity question: for those who find Democratic policies more ethical than Republican, do you vote for Hillary because she’s got the muscle most able to implement them—though that muscle comes with big business “connections,” “donations,” and “dealings” of dubious ethics that might get in the way of the policies you want—or do you vote for Sanders because his positions are perhaps closer to your ideal?

You should read her article, it is one of the best of this election cycle.


In the run by the idealistic Ned Lamont against the quisling Joe Lieberman for the Democratic nomination for the Senate in Connecticut, I proposed that someone force both of the candidates to pledge that they would abide by the choice of the Democrats whose nomination they were asking for in the general election.  If a candidate is asking for a party's nomination, they should be gotten on record as supporting the eventual choice of the people who they are asking to give them the nomination.  It wasn't done and Joe Lieberman was put back into office where he wreaked havoc with, among other things, health coverage as passed and signed into law by Obama.  If he had not been there, "Obamacare" would likely have been stronger.

Last night, the FOX anchor got the Republican candidates to make that pledge, that they would support the choice of Republican voters.  I would bet that if the scenario of a brokered convention taking it from Trump happens, that promise won't be worth the paper it's not written on.

I would like someone who gets to ask both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders a question to get them, both, to make that pledge and that they will ask their supporters to vote for the only thing between us and which ever of the psychopaths the Republicans will be running getting into office.  If they can't make that promise, if they would really act as a spoiler to defeat the Democratic nominee, they have no business asking for the nomination which belongs to the members of the Democratic Party.

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