Saturday, March 28, 2015

Moral courage in politics

Moral courage is a concept rarely used in politics. It is safe to assume that most (95% ?) partisans on the left and right, if they think about it at all, believe that they exercise lots of it and their political opponents exercise less or none. In a sense, they are both right. Most partisan definitions or conceptions obviously include most or all of what the believer believes and does, while rejecting everything else as false or worse.

Like the concept of service to the public interest, most people have their own definition for political terms of debate. Moral courage is an example. If they think about it at all, people live up to their definitions to a variable extent, occasionally to the extent of self-sacrifice.[1] That's just human nature. For better or worse, mostly worse, political discourse or debate and action is based on defined terms or concepts. Misunderstanding, distrust and intolerance is the typical result when definitions or concepts clash. In the standard two-party system and its way of doing governance, the most common result of clashing definitions is waste, inefficiency, partisan hate, public confusion, gridlock and diversion of public focus from the more important to the less important. Of course, that's desirable from the point of view of both parties and the corrupt[2] system[3] they built and defend. Public discord and gridlock serves the political status quo more than the public interest.

When it comes to defining key terms of debate, there are two basic options. One is to leave everyone to define terms such as moral courage as they wish and live with the miscommunication and waste. The other is to begin a process of definition. In the long run, that will best serve the public interest. The first option supports the two-party system and its corruption, waste and failure status quo. The second begins to clarify values that are relevant to serving the public interest and would begin a slow process of reducing misunderstanding and distrust. In turn, that should increase the efficiency of governance.

Moral courage defined
Dissident Politics (DP) defines moral courage in politics to mean rejection of political ideology and the biases that ideologies generate in favor of (i) unspun reality or fact and (ii) unbiased logic from the point of view of service to the public interest.

That may sound fairly simple, but it isn't. That is no different than nearly all contested issues in politics. Politics is rarely a matter of black and white regardless of how fervently ideologues on the left and right would dispute that for essentially any issue. The definition of service to the public interest can be disputed. The definition of moral courage can be disputed. Is moral courage limited to physical courage or does it include the courage to make compromises on behalf of the greater good, even if that means some or great harm to one's personal interests or beliefs? In politics, the more relevant aspect is self-sacrifice for the greater good or public interest.

For politics and politicians, exercise of moral courage means doing what is right for the public interest before doing what is right for the party's or the politician's interests, even if it means losing. That can happen. President Johnson knew that when he signed the civil rights act in 1964 that the democratic party would lose the South for at least a generation. According to Bill Moyers, Johnson's press secretary, President Johnson said: "I think we've just turned the South over to the Republican Party for the rest of my life, and yours." President Johnson was right, despite conservative ideologue denials of the facts. Hard core ideologues and partisans usually either distort or deny facts that undermines the advocate's opinion.

Evidence of that is the fact, not opinion, that such differences fall almost exclusively along partisan ideological lines. For example, most liberals believe humans cause climate change and most conservatives believe that is not true. That is the case despite the majority opinion of relevant scientists. Many conservatives still continue to believe that most climate scientists do not believe humans are relevant to climate change. Accepting uncomfortable facts for what they are takes moral courage. Facts often undermine or contradict ideology. Lacking moral courage makes such facts hard to accept but very easy to deny or distort.

Maybe average Americans are beginning to see the lack of moral courage in the ideologue's inability to face facts and logic. If so, then it is no wonder that the American public has lost trust in the federal government, or that many voters lost trust in both the democratic and republican parties. That is solid evidence that that average Americans are beginning to see the self-serving, corrupt two-party Emperor and its ideologies are naked. The loss of public trust in the face of moral cowardice is rational and fully justified.

1. Of interest is asking how most liberals see the ultimate sacrifice of conservatives they rarely or never politically agree with and vice versa. It is probably the case that when the ultimate sacrifice is made, both sides will usually see merit in the final act, but when disagreements over politics arise, they usually see little or no merit in the disagreements or the opposition. That includes a willingness to call political opposition traitor, idiot and other colorful but incorrect epithets. That's just partisan politics as usual because that's just human nature as usual and how the two-party system plays on that basic human nature. Because they serve themselves first, neither side in politics (most or all hard core democrats and republicans) is willing to rise above crude, crass self-interest. For the hard cores, it is about winning, not governing: "It's all about winning, it's not about governing anymore.".

2. Corruption in politics (DP definition): Engaging in (1) standard illegal bribery or quid pro quo action by politicians, partisans and major campaign contributors in return for payment such as money, sex, tax breaks, laws that reduce competition or that favor a donor's personal or economic interests and (2) unwarranted service to a special interest in view of the public interest as defined previously. Major campaign donors are relevant: The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 was enacted to, e.g., (1) limit undue influence of wealthy individuals and special interest groups on the outcome of federal elections and (2) limit abuses by requiring public disclosure of campaign finances. Today, the conservative side of the two-party system fights those requirements, which is an example of partisan interests trumping service to the public interest.
3. Two-party system (DP definition): The democratic and republican parties, their higher level elected politicians (say, more that ~10,000 votes depending on the office and locale), their major campaign contributors and the partisan biased media and thought leaders/advocates, e.g., the editorial pages of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal (not the news pages of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal), the National Review Online, MSNBC, the CATO Institute and Fox News.

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