Thursday, August 04, 2005

Moral Conviction: Democrats vs. Republicans

I was looking for some of Andrew Sullivan's excellent posts on torture when I came across this e-mail from one of his readers:
What really bothers me right now is the political self-protection in place of moral values that happens on the right and left. The left demonstrated this with their rallying around Clinton during Monica-gate. While Clinton probably did not deserve to be impeached, he certainly did not act presidential and was not worthy of the support he received. With the Democrats out of power, the Republicans have been front and center with their political self-protection. Where is the outrage about torture? Honestly, they impeach Clinton over sex and lying, but actual incidents of human beings from around the world being treated with Nazi stye torture is responded to with circling of political wagons. At what point does humanity trump politics? Those who committed the horrors of 9/11 showed no humanity, and only looked to serve their political agenda of terror. We are better then that. Both parties need to be. I am not calling Republicans Nazis or saying they are the same as 9/11 terrorists, but I am saying the moral fiber of our nation is called into question with government sanctioned torture of people, incident or guilty. It is one thing to get into debates about what it means to be patriotic, a silly debate the right and left get into all the time, but it is another thing for our humanity to be at stake. Where is the outrage? Both parties have men and women of great moral conviction. May of those Democrats were missing during Clinton's presidency, and it seems many Republicans are missing now.
Like most liberals I am very disturbed by the lengths to which conservatives and Republicans nowadays will go in order to defend Bush & Co. Whether it is Karl Rove outing a CIA agent for political gains or Alberto Gonzales writing his "torture memo" I am truly astounded that the vast majority of conservatives and Republicans (good friends included) are either a) not bothered at all, or b) actively defending the administration.

But are the Democrats any better? Andrew's reader doesn't seem to think so, since many Democrats defended Clinton during his presidency. Thus he ends up lamenting a lack of moral conviction on both sides.

In this he may be right but it is important to note the different forms of moral conviction. Conservatives care greatly about personal virtues such as fidelity and honesty while liberals care more about saving the evironments and eliminating human suffering.

As a (moderate) liberal I remember laughing out loud when I first heard about Monica-gate. Public figures caught in juicy scandals amuses me. Later on I came to see it more as a personal tragedy for the Clinton family and an excellent psychological case study in "compartmentalization" (which some conservatives rightly link to "character" although I'd say it's more about "emotional maturity"). But I never saw it as grounds for impeachment.

In torture-gate I'm not really sure I see grounds for impeachment either, but looking at Bush's policy decisions as a whole I definitely think voters should have kicked him out in 2004. In my view he is both ruining the environment and increasing human suffering. About his personal virtues I don't care so much, although I I'm happy his honesty ratings are finally falling. He could be caught snorting coke while cheating on Laura with Pam Anderson for all I care, as a liberal I would argue that he should be allowed to do whatever he wants.

But imagine the conservatives reaction to such a story. They would drop him like a hot potato. He would no longer be "one of them". Which is, I guess, ultimately what people's voting behavior comes down to.

I for one like to think I am much more like Clinton than Bush. Not because I yearn for infidelity (not any more than the next guy anyway) but because I value making the world a better place far higher than the protection of superficial Victorian moral standards.


Charles N. Steele said...

Sullivan's correspondent is on target that regarding the hypocrisy on both sides. But the actions of the Bush administration -- torture-gate, denial of habeus corpus, etc. are far more dangerous thatn the things for which Clinton was impeached -- and indeed should be impeachable, since Bush in particular took an oath to uphold the Constititution, an oath he's plainly violated.

Mads said...

Charles - I agree that Bush's actions are more dangerous. But to make that argument? You say Bush violated the oath to uphold the constitution. How?

I think part of the problem is that Bush is so "sneaky". He is connected to all the right people (including a former president) so he knows how the systems works. He gets away with things without being caught red-handed. His insistence on loyalty and secrecy further complicate any attempts at showing how he manipulates people and willfully bends the rules.

Dan said...

I do not remember any kind of massive moral denial on the part of the left during the Clinton scandal. I remember many saying that he is a lying creep but that it was nothing about which to get worked up, not on the level of impeachment. I remember different liberals looking at the whole thing in different ways, some seeing lying under oath as a plainly deplorable act, and some seeing it as the obvious move for a married man facing the wrath of his wife. It seems to me, however, that just about every liberal agrees, in retrospect, that lying about receiving oral sex isn't even in the same galaxy as lying in order to go to war. Bush's deceptions are directly related to the job that he was hired to do, and Clinton's were not. This simply makes all of the difference, and the idea that liberals circled the wagons for the man in the face of some sort of obvious, grievous assault on America's sensibilities is hogwash. It doesn't even belong in the same conversation as the crap Bush has pulled.

Mads said...

Dan - I hear you. I'm just not sure how to make that argument to the average voter. As I suggest above I just don't think voters are sophisticated enough to grasp the argument that Bush lied to take us to war. Especially not since the whole conservative "parallel universe" of newsmedia and paid advocates are filling the airwaves with conflicting messages.

In short: Clintons "sins" may have been less severe but any Joe Schmoe understood that a) he cheated, and b) he blatantly lied about it. Ask Joe about Iraq and he'll likely say: "I don't know, the whole thing is a mess, I'd rather not think about it."

Dan said...

I'm inclined to agree with you here, but what does such an outlook portend? Since sophistication can't just simply rise, like a stock quote or something, doesn't this suggest that we are at the point of no return? It's always going to be far easier to convolute the citezenry's frame of mind than it will be to right it onto a track of informed reality. I agree with you that the argument that Bush lied to take us to war is lost on the average voter. We might disagree, however, as to how abject a state of affairs this is.