July 7, 2009
POLITICS/FOOTBALL: The Moralizers Were Right
My initial reaction, besides horror, to the shooting death of former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair was to try to hide from the story. I was always a fan of McNair, and will never forget the heartbreak of the Titans' just-a-yard-short drive against the Rams in the Super Bowl. Like Kirby Puckett, McNair was a guy whose virtues on and around the field of play were such that I'd prefer to remember him only as he was in uniform.
That said, the saga of McNair's death at the too-young age of 36 is the proverbial train wreck you can't look away from, and the details are ugly: McNair was involved with a 20-year-old mistress while he was married to his wife of 12 years, with whom he had four children. From what we can tell, his mistress thought he was leaving his wife, and his wife didn't know about the mistress. McNair's death has been ruled a homicide, and while the police haven't wrapped up the investigation, it appears that the mistress shot him and turned the gun - which she had purchased days earlier - on herself. The motive for the killing is likewise murky, but the obvious likely explanation is that McNair's deceptions in one sense or another caught up to him.
The McNair story brought me back yet again to the downfall of Mark Sanford and a basic point that the cultural Left, with its pervasive hold on our culture, has fundamentally wrong. You will recall that the main criticism of guys like Sanford from the left is that they are "moralizers" - i.e., speak out on behalf of traditional sexual mores and 'family values,' such as not shacking up with a woman not your wife, especially if you are already married. The argument, sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit, is that the real sin of political and cultural leaders is not cheating on their own wives but telling other people that cheating on your wife is a bad thing.
Now, of course any system of moral values, and any discussion of right and wrong in government policy, inherently involves religion, as the foundation of pretty much everyone's moral thinking is their religion or irreligion. That being said, it can't be stressed often enough that when our leaders speak out against things like marital infidelity, what they are doing is not just abstract moral philosophy but rather bringing to bear the prudence and wisdom of human experience. Which is where McNair comes into the picture. We know, from many thousands of years of human experience, that cheating on your wife opens up a whole world of hazards and complications and deceptions, and that many bad consequences flow to everyone involved that could otherwise have been avoided. If Mark Sanford hadn't cheated on his wife, he'd still be a presidential candidate. If Steve McNair hadn't cheated on his wife, he'd still be alive. If Eliot Spitzer hadn't cheated on his wife, he'd still be Governor of New York. And on and on and on throughout the ages. The story is all the sadder when men like Sanford and McNair, who had been models of integrity and professionalism in their professional lives, throw it all away over such foolishness. Promiscuous sex, sex among teenagers, prostitution, divorce...we know, and we see, the costs of these things played out again and again and again, and the job of adults, wise in the world by virtue of experience, is to impart to others those lessons, to impart knowledge that comes from human experience and acts as a restraint on the most common of impulses. When the leaders of our society, government and culture speak out on these issues, they are performing that valuable service. Would that someone had gotten that message through at some point to Steve McNair; would that Mark Sanford had listened to his own advice. And shame on anyone who wants to drive the wisdom of experience out of the public square.
The usual rejoinder at this point is to complain that of course it's all well and good for people to teach morality in the privacy of their own homes, but that people in politics and government have no business getting involved in private matters. As I have noted repeatedly over the years, that's an easier argument to make when government is small and less intrusive, and laughable coming from people who want to make it larger and more intimately involved in everyday life, but besides that, the very fact that things like adultery are largely beyond the reach of the law is precisely why they remain properly within the reach of the culture, and why it's a good thing to have prominent people speaking out on such issues.
Maybe McNair, and Sanford, and Spitzer, and so many, many others would never have listened. Human beings are sinful by nature, and desire is strong. But the whole point of civilized society is to make a concerted, collective effort to pass on what we have learned over human history about the restraints we must place upon our instincts if we are to avoid similar tragedies, if we are to act as reasoning moral agents rather than animals driven only by impulse. Being a 'moralizer' about those restraints may not be the popular path, but it's the path of wisdom and maturity. We should be happy for anyone still willing to do that job.
Nice story, Crank.
Now you know why some of us are for better regulation of the financial markets and the ability for society to put restraints on corporate greed. It's from experience.
Allowing corporations to police themselves, de-regulation of financial markets, allowing money to buy access so laws can be written in the interests of the few rich over the majority of the citizenry..."we know, and we see, the costs of these things played out again and again and again, and the job of adults, wise in the world by virtue of experience, is to impart to others those lessons, to impart knowledge that comes from human experience and acts as a restraint on the most common of impulses."
It may not be popular in some places, but "it's the path of wisdom and maturity."
We need to change "In God We Trust" to "Slow on the Uptake" for truth in advertising purposes
What some of us don't understand is why some folks can watch the putrid porridge produced by Waxman, Obama, Murtha, Jefferson, Dodd, Frank, et al and think that more of the same would make life better.
Corporations have nowhere near the power to be as corrupt as government. I guess some folks are just real slow on the uptake.
Who said anything about Waxman, Obama, Murtha, etc?
I was speaking about having representation for the citizenry.
We have the opportunity (with the coming "Healthcare reform" that will be a giveaway to insurance companies at the expense of the citizenry) to finally kill-off the 2-party system designed to provide the rich with all the representation.
This might be the "big one". The one where followers of BOTH major parties realize they're getting screwed, and take to the streets for REAL change.
One can dream.
The corporations and government we have are two sides of the same coin. They both work to provide benefits to the few to the eternal detriment of the citizenry.
Your post proves your last sentence.
The extend of government control into our lives to "protect us from ourselves" is very much a debatable issue.
The point I take from Crank's post is public figures take moral positions on issues based on experience by people of the harmful effects of types of behaviour. Let's not assume just because a moral position is taken that then we should implement legislation to make ALL people follow that morality.
So what issues should have legistration behind them and what issues should be left up to the individual? This to me is the key question. Some issues like murder and theft are obvious things that need to be legislated since they directly impact others. But what about carbon footprint, saturated fat levels in food, etc? Are these best left to the person to decide or should government tell us what we can do?
Let's take drugs for instance. If using of drugs is to be left to the person, what about selling of drugs? Experience has shown that drugs have a negative effect on the person plus society around them. But so does drinking, so why are drugs illegal but drinking legal (but regulated)?
How about abortion? Is it a moral issue? Some people think it is immoral to kill unborn children but the law of land says it is not only legal but a right of a woman. Some people might say that legalizing abortion is forcing one person's morallity on another. While other people would say that NOT legalizing abortion is forcing one person's morallity on another. Which is it?
When should the government stick it's nose in is quite a gray area. Hence there is much room for debate on each issue.
This also posits the position that moralizers are in the right and that they are putting forth their positions because they believe in morality, goodness, etc. I would say this is largely hogwash which is the problem with the vast majority of the morality pitchers. Limbaugh is all tough on crime and drugs...until he's the druggie. Samford is a big family values guy except he likes to F other chicks on the side. Haggard is a fire and brimstone Bible thumper except he likes to do meth and have anal sex with male prostitutes. The list goes on and on and on. And on. The pitch is simply that. A pitch. The intended end result is personal enrichment, power or both. That's why they are embarrassing, laughable, dangerous and, in some cases, down right evil. Those who shuck, jive, pitch, sell and cram morality down our collective throats are generally the ones with morality issues of their own far beyond the average everyday person and yet they profit off their stances.
Sure, there are people who offer up a vision of a moral world that I think actually believe in it. They, almost overwhelmingly, are never politicians. I think the morality of this country would be a lot better off if some of the people you seem to be praising here would do a lot more S'ingTFU. To heap glory on these snakeoil salespeople is to ignore the huge history of evidence that they are mostly profiteers and lack both wisdom and maturity. I am happy for very few who do that job. They are, mostly, a low form of life that should increasingly be disregarded. Give me your big list of moralists in the political world that you are 100% convinced aren't in it for the cash, fame, glory or power. Here's mine.
The Dalai Lama
If you're right, jim, and to an extent I think you are, then the truth will out. Nobody gets away with much these days, do they?
But where you're wrong is when you attribute their perfidy to greed when it's as likely to be power they're seeking. When a politician tells me I need to pay more taxes and sacrifice for the greater good, what's the difference between that and telling me to keep it in my trousers? It's still moralizing.
The difference is that one costs me money and keeping it in my pants actually saves me money. So if we're going to make moralizing a crime, let's be clear: moralizing while reaching in my pocket should be the felony.
While you and I definitely do not see the world through the same set of eyes I think we have partial common ground here. I definitely brought up power as a reason why people pass themselves off as moralists but fame and money are not far out of that picture. Here is where we may depart company:
I expect every politician to reach into my pocket. Everyone of them does by definition. You are okay with it for some things, I am okay with it for others, neither of us is perfectly content with the whole. You may (do) hate Obama's agenda and don't like paying for it, likewise I hate W's and hated paying for it. To me, those things cancel each other out. What I don't like here is the putting on a pedestal of people who I think are largely liars, cheats, self-interested bastards and thieves who use a very particular issue (or set of issues) to wrap themselves up in and use it to enrich themselves.
Perhaps, ultimately, what I don't like is the way this is couched. It certainly looks like at this point Steve McNair was the victim of a murder/suicide at the hands of the woman he was having an extra-marital affair with. Crank is right, don't have the affair and you don't die (at least by being shot 4 times). What I don't like is the insinuation that more of the fake moralizers running BS at us would make the world a better place. I believe the opposite. What they do cheapens real morality as they use it as a commodity. Less Samfords, Limbaughs, Haggards, et. al would lead to a more moral world. Not less.
As opposed to the "real moralizers"?
Who, pray tell, is going to be qualified to be a "real moralizer"?
Given none of us can live up to our standards 100% of the time, should no one speak of morality?
Yes, McNair would still be alive if he hadn't been schtupping the crazy chick. That is a clear cause and effect relationship.
But here is my question; Why can't Sanford continue to be a presidential candidate?
I understand that it was a stupid, immoral act. I understand that it goes against his own moral stance. However, if there is any weight to the statement made by Crank and BD57 that no one can live up to stringent moral standards 100% of the time, shouldn't this be something he can recover from?
Don't speak of how others will react to him. How would you react to him as a presidential candidate?
I fully admit that I don't know Sanford at all. From my point of view, however, I realize that Spitzer's affair crippled him enough politically in NY that he could not deal with a, shall we say difficult, State Senate. He would be lame duck. He had to step down.
Now, if he were to run again, I would consider voting for him. I figure winning an election washes this from his relationship with the rest of the state government.
So will a conservative please tell me why he wouldn't want Sanford to continue his career in politics. This is really a question.
This post highlights why scandal stories nowadays drive me crazy. The opinionists and columnates breathlessly put at the end of the story something like "and worst of all, he was a HYPOCRITE!!" No, worst of all, he's a liar and a cheater. The hypocrite thing doesn't enter into it.
But by making the major sin be the moralization beforehand, and not the, you know, adultery, it creates a perverse situation where someone who openly advocates destructive behavior (while engaging in said behavior) is held in more esteem than one who advocates avoiding destructive behavior (but engages in it).
It's also easy as pie for an opinionist to cry hypocrisy because all they have to do is look for the inconsistency and point it out. They don't actually have to take a moral stand (the way the purported hypocrite did) that may be unpopular. It's the cheap shot, the low-hanging fruit. It also frequently shows the opinionist to be a moron who does not understand the difference between someone who pretend to advocate a position he does not believe in (a "hypocrite") and someone who advocates a position he believes in, but makes a mistake (what we would call a "human").
Some of the comments here are good examples. Do you really think that Sanford believes extramarital affairs to be the right thing, a "good" thing? Or is he just a weak man, unable to follow what he knows is his own good advice?
Zufall: I will take a shot at explaining why Sanford shouldn't continue to be a presidential candidate, although I don't pretend to speak for all conservatives. Conservatives, I think, certainly can get over moral lapses like an extramarital affair. Everyone recognizes that people don't always live up to what they strive to be.
But Sanford's episode showed more than just a moral failure when it came to his marriage. It showed very bad judgment. A governor of a state cannot just disappear for a few days with some ridiculous cover story about being on the Appalachain Trail. Also, he didn't just sneak off to some motel in Columbia, SC, but he went to Argentina. It is bizarre for anyone to think that he or she can slink off to Argentina unnoticed, not to mention the governor of a state and a prominent national figure. Convervatives' problems with Sanford go beyond his extramarital affair and stem from questions about his judgment.
So, I don't think having an extramarital affair, in and of itself, excludes a conservative or any other candidate from office. It only does so when it reveals a deeper character flaw. For example, conservatives never really abandoned McCain over his admitted infidelity with his first wife (Granted, conservatives abandoned him for other reasons). Conservatives were much more critical of Newt Gingrich, however, because he left his second wife while she was battling cancer. Similarly, everyone, not just conservatives, was appalled by John Edwards affair while his wife was battling cancer.
My previous post should have said that Gingrich left his first wife while she was battling cancer. He only cheated on his second wife. During the Clinton impeachment proceedings. Again, very bad judgment.
What I don't like here is the putting on a pedestal of people who I think are largely liars, cheats, self-interested bastards and thieves...
Which is why I think a lot of you got suckered by Obama. You don't have to look too hard at the imagery they used to sell him to you folks to see the pedastal--or halo or unicorn. It's one thing to back a candidate because if his platform and another to deify him as his followers seem to have done. A deity is tough to fight, or examine too closely or report honestly about.
Also, when a politician says, "Your money will be used to blast bad people into oblivion," or "This is necessary to build roads," he's not moralizing to pick my pocket. When he tells me it's my duty or it's for the greater good or starts in about my fair share, he's pressing his morality on me.
I have no idea why this Haggard fellow keeps coming up. Would you believe me if I told you I never heard of him until his name was in the news for playing with men? It's uncanny--Haggard becomes the face of the GOP when nobody has heard of him but his flock. But Kilpatrick, Murtha, Marion Barry and on and on and on, these are not really Democrats? WTF?
Let me guess: You expect them to be flawed because they never claimed otherwise, right?
Lee - nice post, I agree.
"Now, of course any system of moral values, and any discussion of right and wrong in government policy, inherently involves religion, as the foundation of pretty much everyone's moral thinking is their religion or irreligion. . . ."
I hear what you are saying, but if they are going to talk about that stuff, it would be more helpful if they simply talked about the consequences of those behaviors rather than use hot-button, religious words such as "morality" and "adultery" and "sin." It's unnecessarily divisive and counterproductive. It's also an ineffective way of altering behavior, particularly if those people don't subscribe to those religious concepts.
Even abortion should be approached this way. As a matter of public policy, the pro-life argument should be stated in scientific terms, not religious terms.
I used the term fake and real moralizers just to juxtapose them. I think there are people that talk about or simply embody morality that actually are moral. The Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa (when alive obviously), The Pope (not crazy about this choice as I am suspicious of any organized religion and the Catholic Church and the Vatican have checkered histories for sure but I believe there have been Pope's in my lifetime that rose above that at least from a personal standpoint, however I can see others taking shots at this pick). Anyway you get the point. These people aren't moralizers. In some cases they are probably outside of conventional morality and in nearly 100% of cases outside of politics.
While this post highlighted McNair it was not really about him. Crank has been over the years, at the least, tasteful in his handling of opining about famous people at the time of their passings. Clearly he could have said far, far more than he did about Michael Jackson (as many people are) but I can't think of a time when he has done anything like that. So, to me, this post was about those who talk smack (my words) about "morality" while imperiously flaunting it in their personal life. I don't really give a damn what people do in their personal lives. However, when you are clearly running afoul of your own words on a regular basis it may be time to be doing some shutting up. As MVH states this morality pitch is most often couched in terms of religion (a specific religion) which makes it advesarial rather than productive. What I find distateful is that morality, to those using it for personal gain, becomes solely a commodity. Morality is debased by these people because they neither practice it nor care about it other than as a means of personal advancement. I don't think that Samford that his affair(s) were a good thing. I don't think he gave a damn and his public contrition is nauseating to me. He's a salesman not an advocate.
We'll just disagree over Bush and the wars. We can leave it at "you don't like Obama and don't want to pay for his agenda, I didn't like Bush and didn't want to pay for his" for the purpose of this particular discussion. To me, in this context, it's a wash.
Haggard comes up because he was a welcome man at the Bush White House and was an "advisor" (whatever the hell that means) to Bush. My guess would be that he advised on the topic of morality since that was his schtick.
Jim, I'd have to see a link before I'd swallow this Haggard-as-advisor claim. AFAIK, he was a Denver TV preacher.
And I already explained how it's not "a wash". When a guy says he thinks you should keep your tool in your trousers, it costs you nothing. Call it moralizing if you like--I won't argue. But when I am told to pay "my fair share" for "the common good", that's moralizing too, by any definition including the one you seem to be using. Why is one bad and one good and the one that you think is good is reaching into my wallet?
Could it be that you like reaching into my wallet? And that your issue isn't with moralizing--Obama preaching sacrifice while vacationing in Manhattan and the Cape isn't hypocritical to you--but with moralizing you don't like?
You're not intellectually honest enough to convince me your disdain isn't simply a political stick to whack conservatives with.
You manage to once again prove yourself an ass. First off, the Obama issue is a strawman. When did I bring him up? When have I ever said I was a big fan? Have I ever on this site said I bought into him? Not a fan of his economic policies in general. But in the His Way vs. the Bush Way, I'll take his way. Lesser of 2 not so good ways.
IMO, your universe of people qualified to talk about morality is far too small to give morality a chance, which is a problem - immorality is destructive and ought not prevail.
I agree with Linus.
"Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue." That none of us (no, not one) can live up to the standard doesn't make the standard (or defense of the same) illegitimate.
Jesus Christ (Communist-The Bible), once said, "He who is without sin shall cast the first stone".
I stopped at 3 and then said, "You get the point." Apparently I was wrong. There are other people qualified to do it, however, largely the ones that self-appoint are the ones LEAST qualified to do it. That is my point. The Sanfords, et. al are jackasses who use morality as a tool with no thought of applying it to their own lives as they publically orate on how it should be applied across this country. My universe, I'm sure, is plenty large and I assumed you would get it. Immorality I don't think does prevail and I don't think there is some Morality War going on (unlike those on talk radio). If there is a problem with the morality of this nation it is with those using it for personal gain rather than some countrywide failure of Americans (or, in GOP terms, liberals, atheists, homosexuals, anyone in Hollywood and most everyone who voted for Obama).
WD - thanks.
That is reasonable and practical.
I don't think I missed the point. I wonder if you see the irony in your assumption that you have the moral standing to criticize your targets.
Sanford's failure to live up to his professed standards does not make those standards false.
You do miss the point and there is no irony. I'm not huckstering morality. You assume that folks like Sanford care about what they are yammering about. My point is that they don't. Morality is no less a product to them then Magic Putty was to Billy Mays. It's a pitch from a pitchman. History is chock full of cats like this that have used religion, morality or whatever you want to call it to obtain personal wealth, fame and power. Perhaps you would like to continue to believe in the message even if the messenger is a fraud (perhaps you would call the flawed). I guess I have a far lower tolerance to being sold something so personal as morality when I'm aware that the pitchman cares about the message only to the extent that it lines his/her pockets.
"Jesus Christ (Communist-The Bible), once said, "He who is without sin shall cast the first stone"."
Of course, at the end of the story, he tells the accused woman to "go now and leave your life of sin." No one ever mentions that part. I don't know why.