Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Forget the Facts, Just Sling Mud, Part 3

(This is the third and final excerpt from Chapter 16 of my book, Freedom or Serfdom.)

The Other Side of the Coin – When the Shoe Fits
I'm confident that nearly everyone would agree: unsubstantiated name calling is bad. It is dishonest and distracts from the real issues. But what if the apple really is rotten? What if a politician is a thief, a scoundrel, even a traitor? Unless the voters know about such things they will not be able to vote wisely. Evidence-based, correct description of politicians is not only good, it is required if we are to avoid demagogues and keep our freedom. There is a big difference between unsubstantiated name calling and pointing out verified problems. If a politician has a track record of lies and broken promises, voters should know about it. That is true whether those lies and broken promises were to the public or confined to family and friends.

What should we think of politicians who cheat on their wives, people like Anthony Weiner, Newt Gingrich, Mark Sanford, or John Edwards? Does their private behavior bear on fitness for office? Years ago I saw a quiz intended to measure people's attitudes toward some work issues and help them understand the importance of having the “correct” attitudes. One question asked, “If you found out that your boss was having an extramarital affair, would you think less of him as a boss?” The “right” answer was that no, that should not change how you regard him. His personal life has nothing to do with his work life.

That “right” answer is nonsense.

To believe that a person can have high integrity at work while lacking integrity in personal life is to believe that the person is split into two different characters. It just doesn't happen. If someone cheats on his spouse and not on his employer there is a simple reason: at present he finds it attractive, and of acceptable risk to cheat on his spouse but not on his employer. What will happen when he finds it attractive and of acceptable risk to cheat his employer (or the country)? You don't have to be a rocket scientist to answer that question.[1] Integrity is not situation-dependent. The person who is honest only when honesty is convenient, or when dishonesty is dangerous, lacks integrity. When the situation changes, he will cheat. That is true in family life, in business, and in government.

Newt Gingrich, for example, cheated on at least two wives, eventually divorcing both.[2] He then talked of Christian forgiveness, using that to try to convince people that they should support him. As a Christian I believe in repentance and forgiveness, but so what? The issue is trust, not forgiveness. In fact, I am in no position to forgive Gingrich; he did not wrong me. His ex-wives and his children must deal with that. For voters the issue is trust; and trust must be earned. In fact while Christian scripture repeatedly commands us to forgive, I do not know of any scriptural admonition to trust the offender. Jesus even instructed his disciples to be “wise as serpents.”[3] Surely such wisdom would include trusting only those who are trustworthy.

In our romantic lives, business, or politics we must require that people be trustworthy. That integrity should be manifest by actions, not just words. The politician who fails to demonstrate integrity by his actions should be rejected – be those actions public or private.

We must seek the truth about our politicians. If they are liars and cheaters, we should know that and not vote for them. If they are falsely accused, we should also know that and not hold the accusations against them. And of course we should refrain from unsubstantiated name calling ourselves.

[1]      There are a few people who agree to “open marriages” wherein each allows the other as many affairs as he or she wants. However such marriages are, as far as I can tell, officially unheard of among politicians so they need not concern us here.
[2]      http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/story?id=2937633
[3]      Holy Bible, Matthew 10:16

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