28 February, 2012
The Politics of Honor
“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.” John F. Kennedy
Due to the prevalence of lunacy, deception, and chicanery in politics today cynicism is rampant. This represents one of the most profound losses sustained by our culture during the last half century.
As the opening quote from John F. Kennedy demonstrates politics was not always thus. There was a time when successful political candidates appealed not to our resentments, but to our consciences. There was a time when politicians tried to inspire our efforts rather than incite our hostilities. We were a better country then despite the many problems that had yet to be resolved.
In fact, the resolutions achieved in our past stem directly from the presence of people in politics who practiced it as a profession capable of honor. From people who understood what Kennedy meant and took his words to heart when he declared “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and as clear as the American Constitution.” Murder silenced John and three others who spoke in a similar vein. But one cannot kill an ideal and as long as we have ears to hear, eyes to read, minds to comprehend and hearts to care it is still possible to reclaim a politics capable of honor.
We cannot delegate the reclamation of politics to people in elected or appointed office. This is our country as much as it is theirs. The Republic is operated by officials but owned by the citizenry. As Lincoln reminded the Americans in December 1862, “Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us.” His message went first to the Congress and then to the country, it is relevant to us today whether we hold office or are simply voters.
We must rise and demand of those who seek positions of power that they stop smearing one another and stop insulting our intelligence. It is not proper to aggravate resentments, suspicions, fears, and bigotries. People worthy of leadership positions must give us something to work and fight for not someone to fight with. In order to revive a better kind of politics, we must write and speak to those who spew idiocy through the airwaves and newsprint. Enough is enough we must say clearly and constantly!
Politicians use dog whistles, code words, and wedge issues because these have been successful in the recent past. It is within our power to invalidate these tactics. We can now resolve to dismiss any politician who seeks to appeal to our baser instincts, and respond vigorously to those who appeal to the better angels of our nature. Let us avail ourselves of contact information; let us put our money, however meager that might be, where our hearts are.
If any among us have ever served in combat, then we know that in the midst of the mud, the blood, and the danger we are all Americans. Our party affiliations are inconsequential when we seriously consider and candidly discuss the challenges before us. As President Obama has observed, “What’s at stake aren’t Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. And we have to reclaim them.”
These values are stated in understandable English in our founding documents and a several superb speeches by great patriotic leaders from our history. Our founding premise and as yet unrealized promise is full human and civil equality. Next we value a government of just powers derived from the consent of the governed. In order to achieve these ideals we must pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. Finally, we must work together to perfect our union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for a common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty. None of these clearly expressed values requires or condones the demonizing of political rivals, the division of citizens into hostile camps, or the demagoging of political discourse.
True leaders among those seeking elective office will strive to remind us of the principles and purposes underlying our Republic, but the few who rise to this challenge cannot prevail without resolute effort on our part. Each generation is called upon to give testimony to its fidelity to America’s ideals. Let us answer this call from now until November. Let us work, contribute, and vote with the candidate who tells us “Each time I look at that flag, I’m reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those fifty stars and those thirteen stripes. No one built this country on their own. This nation is great because we built it together. This nation is great because we worked as a team. This nation is great because we get each other’s backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard. As long as we’re joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, and our future is hopeful, and the state of our union will always be strong.”
These are not merely words. They are a summons as clear as any trumpet. Let us answer. Let us stand our country now in the time of crisis. Let us assert the sovereignty of the people and chase the demagogues and charlatans from public life. Let us insist on being led through an appeal to our better angels rather than stampeded by the incitement of our baser instincts. Let us resolve to press on with the work thus far so nobly begun. Let us show the world how together, yes we can, make a country better than the one we have made of this land. This is our country and its history is still being written. We can rise to the challenge and bring the promises closer to fulfillment or we can shirk our responsibility and succumb to the deluge of nonsense and slime some will unleash.
It matters who we elect to the Presidency, to the Congress, and to state offices. Despite all that has been done to tarnish the reputation of politics it does not have to be a cesspool. We can drain the swamp and remove the toxic waste some insist on dumping into the public arena. By our actions, “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.” Let us confound those who believe we can be duped by negative advertisements or deranged by appeals to resentment, fear, hostility, and bigotry. Let us prove that we are patriotic in the truest sense of the term and that our faith in the premise, promise, and purposes of the Republic is undiminished.
We must recognize “America is a winner-take-all election system in which a party needs only 51 percent (or, in a three-way race, a plurality) in order to gain control.” The Republican Party has become a lair of “birthers, creationists, theocrats, climate-change deniers, nativists, gay-bashers, anti-abortionists, media paranoids, anti-intellectuals, and out-of-touch country clubbers” which cannot govern America responsibly. Nonetheless, they pose the threat of capturing at least one house of Congress and several state legislatures and governorships. We must not be passive in face of this threat. We must not use some self-serving complaint about the ignobility of contemporary politics to rationalize our detachment and inertia. The Republic and the future we save will without a doubt be our own.