As Sarah Palin might say, “You betcha!” Maybe that was too easy… Perhaps a better query is, “Should governance be moralistic?” At least it’s a bit more challenging. Assuming that governance in the U.S. is all about “we the people”, and the “collective good” is the ideal, then the answer should also be a resounding “Yes!” Of course, if we were talking about some right-wing dictatorship (that we, the U.S., were so fond of aligning ourselves with a few decades ago and are now in the business of removing at gun point — oops! I can feel a tangential rant coming on!) -then of course all bets would be off. For the sake of clarity then, we’ll confine this discussion to the “we the people” paradigm of U.S. governance.
First, I’d better define morality since it seems to have lost a good amount of depth in recent years. I am not referring to the narrow conceptual definition of morality that the right-wing in this country considers almost exclusively. That puritanical version concerns itself largely with matters of personal sexuality and the ever-problematic rights of women, such as they are. As we lefties are aware, there is a hell of a lot more to morality, if indeed personal sexual matters are issues of morality at all, than just whom we choose to sleep with and when, and how often and for what purpose we do it. (Disclaimer: non-consensual sex and statutory rape are issues of morality. For the record, bestiality is not a moral issue, unless of course it is non-consensual. Go easy on me PETA!).
So, what is morality then? According to dictionary.com, the first definition of morality reads, “moral or virtuous conduct” and the second reads “moral quality of character.” Admittedly, the third definition mentions “chastity,” but it’s third!
I would suggest that morality is truly about how we treat each other and how we treat our planet. More specifically, it is about how we treat our sick and our elderly and how we might treat a hungry stranger, how we conduct our business and how we raise our children. Morality is also about matters of war and peace, friendship, tolerance and humility…but most importantly, morality is about how we treat “the least among us.” Jesus had a bit to say on that topic. I felt momentarily compelled to use language with which the Right might logically identify, but quickly realized that the Right is sooo Old Testament. It’s interesting how they seem to discount the New Testament, where Jesus teaches a broad notion of morality.
What compels me to write on morality at this moment is the shameful proposal put forth last week by Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-WI (that squeaked out of committee in a 19-18, largely party-line, vote). Ryan’s budget, which would likely be the law of the land if the GOP controlled the Senate and the White House, is a surprisingly diaphanous attempt at upward wealth redistribution and top-down class warfare. It should be required reading for any civic-minded American. In addition, its implications, as described below, should be considered a cautionary tale when pulling the lever in November.
According to Robert Reich, Mr. Ryan’s budget, would, in conspicuous fashion, upwardly redistribute the wealth in this country; specifically, he wrote, “This would give the wealthiest Americans an average tax cut of at least $150,000 a year… The money would come out of programs for the elderly, lower-middle families, and the poor.” To me, that’s just breathtaking on the face of it! What is so bothersome about it, and I would assume anyone who reads this will be similarly annoyed (unless of course you’re a proud and stingy member of the “1%”), is Mr. Ryan’s and the broader GOP’s unequalled hubris and complete indifference to those in need. Although several words come to mind to describe Mr. Ryan’s proposal, “immoral” seems to do it justice.
The moral to this tale of morality is thus: We (the Left) must not cede the mantle of morality to the Right. We own it, because when we’re good, we walk it, live it and breathe it. Let them cede the lion’s share of moral issues to the rest of us in their quest to serve a divisive few, and when they do, let’s call them on it! Sooner or later, it may just catch up with them and the truth will be revealed. And if you’ve read Mr. Ryan’s budget, it has been already.