Monday, August 2, 2010

Unethical Hypocrisy: Politics

As I mentioned in the introduction to this series of discussions, hypocrisy is a scourge on our society because it withers away our faith in our most vital public and private social institutions. In order to function in a way which serves the needs of the general public, politics relies on all individuals involved being committed to the causes which they claimed to support during their election processes. When elected officials choose to take actions which run contrary to their previously stated goals it leaves their voting constituents with feelings of powerlessness, anger, and regret. Furthermore, acts of political hypocrisy can have a damaging effect on society, and the world at large, since hypocrisy tends to favor the status quo. And it is exactly the status quo which the electorate seeks to challenge each time they venture to the polls.

For at least as long as I have been alive, Republicans have claimed to hold control over the issue of "family values" in the US. Conservatives have lauded their support for Christianity, the sanctity of marriage, and the pro-life agenda among their many claims that they are pro-family. However, it could be effectively argued that Republican support of large corporations and unregulated free market Capitalism seems to run counter to their alleged support of family values. As an example, prior to the government establishing strict labor laws it was not uncommon for workers in corporate factories to work twelve hour shifts which left very little time for parents to spend with their families. If Conservatives had their way in deregulating businesses, it would not be unexpected to one day see a return to the twelve hour work day. Already, corporations tacitly expect employees to work 50-60 hour work weeks (thanks largely to employee downsizing) despite being salaried for only 40 hours per week.

In a more contemporary example, Conservative Republicans have argued that the "Bush Tax Cuts" to the wealthiest Americans should be extended permanently, even though there is strong evidence that trickle down economics does not actually help middle or lower class families as Republicans would allege. Higher income earners simply use their extra income to save or invest for later. Eventually, their money is handed down not to those in the bottom 98% of the income distribution but, rather, to their relatives who continue the cycle of hoarding wealth. Unfortunately, since Republican voters believe that their politicians will support family values, they inadvertently end up with politicians who are not actually looking out for their voters best interests but rather the best interests of the wealthiest 2% of Americans. In order for Republican politicians to not be hypocrites, and better serve their voters, it would be necessary for them either to admit that, while they support so-called family values, their true priorities lie with the CEOs of corporations, or they could actually support regulations and social programs which seek to redistribute some of the wealth from the top 2% down to the lower 98% through better, more affordable, educational systems, access to health care for children and families, and improved technological infrastructure.

Of course, it would be unfair to paint political hypocrisy as being solely a problem of Conservative Republicans. Democrats also have their share of issues with hypocrisy which are also damaging to their voting constituencies. President Barack Obama was elected largely because he advertised himself as a candidate for change, something which was desperately wanted by Democratic voters. However, what has been presented to the world since the President's election in 2008 has not been a man in favor of broad sweeping changes (despite what Republicans and the Tea Partiers would want people to believe), but rather a man who favors incrementalism at best and maintaining the status quo at worst. When Obama first came into office, one of his first prime directives was to usher in a new era of openness in government. However, this concept of openness quickly hit a brick wall once the issue of the torture memos and photos from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay came up during the first months of Obama's administration. The President immediately turned 180 degrees on the issue of openness saying that to release the various documents, photos, and videos would damage America's image in the world and hurt our efforts abroad.

In response to Liberals' calls for the President to uphold his edict of openness, Republicans (especially members of the Cheney family) accused Liberal Democrats of wanting to harm America by asking for the torture evidence to be released. However, it was not a desire to harm America which informed Liberal desires for transparency, but rather the quite ethical belief that the country should not engage in activities which we would not be proud to let the world see at any given time. The Liberal Democratic view of the issue was one which held that, if we are to be seen as a "shining beacon on a hill" as Conservative hero Ronald Reagan once provided, our nation should hold itself to a higher ethical standard than those who would attempt to do us harm. As the rational ethical extension of that belief, if we do something which is beneath that higher standard, we should also present negative actions to the world so that we can take our punishment for poor decision making like an adult, and hopefully learn from our mistakes. By choosing to be a hypocrite on the issue of transparency, President Obama caused America to cower against the potential retribution of the rest of the world. Naturally, the ethical, non-hypocritical, course for government officials to take is to either not engage in activities which would damage American prestige if the world found out, or to do those activities but fully accept the damage caused to our prestige once the world discovers what was done. Either way, voters would at least know what they were getting when they entered the voting booth.

While I am certain that I could continue at much greater length about the hypocrisy of the various political agents in Washington, I will stop for now in order to prevent this "short" series from becoming a long epic. I will return soon with some thoughts on the hypocrisy of religion in America. Feel free to leave comments and I will perhaps address them at a later time.

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