28 May

Forget Ideology: Conservatives Need to Develop a Basic Sense of Right and Wrong


By Ann Davidow

In the film Clear and Present Danger one of the president’s henchmen who has engineered an unauthorized war in South America angrily confronts CIA chief Jack Ryan for questioning the operation saying “You are such a boy-scout.” For you everything is black and white, no gray areas. To which Ryan replies ‘not black and white, right and wrong.’ It’s a scene that gets at the heart of what happens in the political world when standards are swept aside and replaced by ill-chosen, short-term remedies devised by partisans without conscience.

Decisions these days are rarely made according to principles that define right and wrong. They’re all about outwitting political opponents, taking partisan advantage of situations where morality is the last thing under consideration. “Free markets” today are the bellwether of social values and any who dare question the premise are branded socialists or communists. Never mind that free markets are often the end game of unscrupulous manipulators of our fiscal condition, a name given to make what is venal and corrupt seem decent and honorable.

Today pronouncements are made in crude, irrational moralistic trash talk, as if there were a way to make ugly words turn into wisdom the moment they are uttered. Abortion becomes a legislative goal and if laws don’t conform to the vision of right-wing purity, well, make them disappear by electing politicians who will refuse to fund laws already on the books if they offend the sensibilities of a pride-bound caucus. And how have the righteous declared fealty to the Constitution when they ignore some of its basic tenets. How do zealots get away with insisting there should be greater religious emphasis in our schools and legislatures, and that we should choose political aspirants who fit that description when the Constitution plainly states there shall be no religious test for those who wish to hold office?

Often the simple act of turning one’s television on can unleash a torrent of simple-minded blather that overwhelms rational discourse and numbs all efforts to find resolution for matters that cry out for sanity rather than partisan nonsense. Liberal, conservative and all other ideological tags fall short of defining what it is our society lacks in the way of intelligent oversight or sound criticism delivered without vitriolic ad hominem attacks. In a committee meeting on the subject of financial reform the Republican chairman McHenry accused Elizabeth Warren of “making things up” with respect to a scheduling conflict, marking a new low in decorum by the chairman and a disgraceful attempt to badger Warren into submission.

Giving power to this band of opportunistic buffoons was a mistake of historic proportions. Will the electorate have the will to correct its misperception of what proper participation in the legislative process is all about or will we be confounded by uncivil, heavy-handed partisan clowns until the process is torn to shreds? Efforts in some states to limit participation in the electoral process itself are a disturbing outcropping of an ultra-conservative assault on all things not to its liking. It can only be hoped that the courts will step in to protect our way of life from an unconscionable offensive led by politicians at the margins.

Perhaps I didn’t notice before, but Representative Cantor’s demand that relief assistance to states devastated by recent tornados must be offset by spending reductions came as a shock. I don’t recall similar requirements when human needs were involved in the past. I was under the impression that disaster relief was in a special category. The idea that such services could be tied to budgetary constraints is one more indication of the fanatical, one-note ideology of the Republican majority now unfortunately in control.

As Richard Trumpka, president of the AFL/CIO said at a recent gathering we are facing a “moral challenge” about how we should go about mending our fiscal condition and re-establishing a fair and open society.  It isn’t just about political affiliations; but ultimately is about right and wrong.

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