Absolutes, Moral Clarity, and the Great Political Divide
is an article authored by Michael Medved who those interested in Intelligent Design might know as a member of the Discovery Institute. The article is not about Intelligent Design but does raise some important points of interest to those of us living on this planet. So it will be filed under the off-topic heading. In the article Medved wrote:
Those who take their inspiration from Ronald Reagan enthusiastically embrace moral absolutes; those who admire Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton or Barack Obama feel uncomfortable with terms like good and evil when applied to politics and world affairs. Republicans relish crisp black-and-white when drawing distinctions; “progressives” feel an incurable fondness for shades of gray. On foreign policy, social issues, even the economy, the right wants to take sides and to make sure the good guys win. The left, on the other hand, seeks to split the difference among warring interests in behalf of a “can’t-we-all-get-along” vision of moral equivalency.
There is much truth to this observation but there are unmistakable push-button issues for which Medved's conclusion does not apply. Recall Senator Trent Lott's speech at the 100th birthday party of Strom Thurmond when he said:
I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either...
The occasion was televised and I watched it. Lott, like everyone else present, was eager to say something nice about Thurmond, a former segregationist. He was not making a policy statement about racial politics. It was not on the radar screen. But you would not have known this based on the ensuing political storm which eventually resulted in severe political punishment for Lott.
For liberals this was good versus evil. At least on the surface. We can't forget that the Democratic Party, dominated by liberalism, included among its ranks Senator Byrd, a one time member of the Ku Klux Klan. Yes, he had forsaken everything associated with the Klan and was forgiven that blot on his record. After all he was now working with the good guys. Lott never was a member of the Klan. He was not even accused of being a segregationist. His sin was saying something at a birthday party. The point is good and evil do exist for liberals and no shades of gray are allowed when PC issues are broached. More from Medved's article:
When John McCain responded to the invasion of Georgia with a full-throated, unequivocal denunciation of Russian bullying, Barack Obama’s top foreign policy advisor, Susan Rice, condemned the Republican nominee for “shooting from the hip” and “complicating” the situation. Her criticism echoed the sentiments of nervous 1980’s liberals who slammed President Reagan’s “simple-minded” and “destabilizing” characterization of the Soviet Union as an “Evil Empire.”
McCain's reaction was spot-on. Russian aggression was and continues to be abhorent. This is a much clearer example of right and wrong than the birthday speech. So, apart from the political campaigning, why the criticism of McCain's condemnation of Russia? This has much to do with managing our approach to events impacting foreign policy. To criticize the obvious- Russia's indefensible aggression- to some, also encourages a turn toward the despised "interventionism" associated with the Bush administration. To restrain a turn in that direction you manage how news is presented. De-emphasize the unsavory murder of Georgian civilians. Downplay Georgia's attempt at democratization. Play along with timid Europeans who offer the obligatory criticisms while making sure they do nothing to provoke genuine Russian ire. After all western economies run on oil and the west has succeeeded in making itself a whore to Russian and Middle Eastern sources of oil. More from Medved:
Instead, he seemed to suggest that the United States should feel guilty about its own evil deeds, committed on behalf of good intentions, saying it’s “very important for us to have some humility in how we approach the issue of confronting evil, because of a lot of evil’s been perpetrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil.” In other words, Obama takes us back to the tired old moral equivalency arguments of thirty years ago, recycling a familiar plot from any number of acclaimed gangster movies – with the crusading cop becoming just as compromised and vicious as the criminal he’s determined to bust.
It is false humility to refrain from taking on evil because of one's own shortcomings. Much evil also has been perpetrated in the name of restraint. In the wake of WWII it was observed that for evil to succeed what is necessary is that good people do nothing. That continues to be true. Ignoring powerful perpetrators of wrongdoing, while swatting the relatively weak Serbians or an individual like Trent Lott, is not heroic. It's not even moral.