Doing the Right Thing

Author: Gary Hart

Though the blogosphere is a wonder, care must be taken by those who venture into it on at least two counts: over-opinionation that becomes strident and dogmatic; and the temptation toward moral superiority. Both seem rampant in today’s public world.

Now, having issued these caveats and cautions, as much to this blogger as anyone, let me suggest a growing impression. Even as we Americans battle against each other in ever harsher terms, there is a dimension to public matters that seems missing. That is the ethical, and even moral, dimension to the serious problems we now face. Previous entries here have stressed, for example, the moral dimension of climate alteration to the degree it degrades our public heritage to future generations, the “posterity” for whom our Republic was formed by our Constitution.

In addition to climate other similar challenges arise. These include: concern for mounting public deficits and debts; unnecessary energy consumption; still massive nuclear arsenals; and endemic poverty, to name the most obvious. For some of us these are ethical (possibly even moral) and not just political, concerns. They are matters of right and justice, not just liberal and conservative, differences. Do we have the right, the ethical right, to leave huge debts to our children? Do we have the right to burn fossil fuels unnecessarily? Is it just to leave massive nuclear stockpiles for future generations to worry about? Does a just society let one in five children live in poverty?

Again, it is important to reiterate that, by raising the bar on these questions from political to ethical, is not to suggest ethical or moral superiority on anyone’s part. For some of us these are life and death (existential) questions. They are not about political, economic, partisan, or ideological differences.

Some questions–slavery, equal rights for all, help for the needy–rose above politics and economic theory. It does not seem inappropriate to suggest that we approach 21st century foundational questions with the same ethical and moral concerns that led us to do the right and just thing regarding similar issues during the best of our past.

This might even guide us away from the present bitterness and meanness that afflict our society.

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14 Responses to “Doing the Right Thing”

  1. Robert Crump Says:

    I may be wrong but my fear is that the Empire we’ve constructed has sapped us of the ability to reason and to understand what is moral and just. And even if we somehow did rediscover the better angels of our nature, I’m not convinced the champagne and oyster crowd on the Potomac would have the guts or the heart to follow through. Thus far, the only idea the big thinkers on the defecit commission have come up with is to raise the retirement age another five years in order to cover a decade of tax cuts and wars.

  2. Darrel Kent (Denver) Says:

    Well said.

    What are the odds others will take these to heart and adhere to the principles herein? I fear that some are too far down the road to care or pay attention to the consequences their actions may result in. Frankly, the worst of the discourse, from what I can see, is coming from the Right side of the political spectrum. It appears to me they are the most out-spoken and least flexible in not only their views, but in their vitriol against any who oppose them.

    There is always hope, but I would not want to pin my mortgage on it.

    I agree with the concern posted by Mr. Crump as well. Further, raising the retirement age is a nuclear attack, so to speak, on the well being of the current working population. It, in effect, eliminates practical social security in America and it penalizes the younger workers who 1) no longer likely have a pension or will ever have access to a pension given the working rules under which we work today, and 2) will not have sufficient retirement savings of their own in place given the miniscule wages under which the majority now work and the highest cost of living which takes priority to meet.

    These poor citizens will be left to either fend on their own or be forced to work until near death their entire lives.

    Where is the honor and justice in that solution?

    I suggest getting out of war, pulling back military spending to appropriate levels, and increasing in some form the collections (through taxes if necessary) to ensure funding of Social Security for all and at current terms.

    I believe their to be sufficient funding in military spend alone to take care of us all.

  3. Stephen Says:

    As long as greed provides the catalyst for legislative solutions to the growing problems of our nation, only the wealthy will benefit. We are seeing the fruits of a deregulated “free” market, and the impoverished class will grow as the wealthy continue to find ways to steal from the middle class in order to enrich their coffers. I doubt that anything short of a People’s Revolution will change the course we’ve been on for more than a generation now. Clearly, the people currently in power haven’t a clue about “Doing the Right Thing” and our system is so thoroughly set up for corruption that voting in non-incumbents would not have the desired effect. However it plays out, I expect the ride is going to be very unpleasant…

  4. Forest Henry Book Says:

    But what is the right thing? In an age where words are confused for public relations, marketing, and political communications; When even the word “right” takes on duality.Duality coming from those we are taught to trust and respect.

    As I read the essay, I thought of these words: Manifest Destiny. Liberty. Self-government. Equality. Individualism. Diversity. Unity. And their impact on the American psyche as of 2010.

    While I may be able to define these through as series of resources, to the average American choosing to be bombarded by mixed messages, what would they define these same words to mean?

    Would the ideas of Liberty mean: Free to act and think as they choose? Would they share in the affirmative that Self-government means: the people are the ultimate source of governing authority and that general welfare is the only legitimate purpose of government?

    Could we all agree (as evidenced in our actions and civil debate) that Equality means: all individuals have moral worth, all should have fair treatment in our legal system. All should have the same opportunity for material gain and political influence?

    Or that we as one American people form a invisible union?

    The anger, can be born from a confusion of witnessing the duality of meanings. The calls for us as “Americans” to do, or to believe, or to act upon a chosen agenda; when it appears that our factionalized verbiage is serving to manage, more than inspire.

    The anger can also be born from being catastrophe weary. A sense of helplessness that appears to be a daily global litany of wars, violence, natural disasters. Whose answers are to believed, or acted upon?

    When leadership offers dual meaning; when the deeds of what is supposed to be a trusted government are in question; when the message of what is in fact culture changes the next week; or when entire groups of human beings are used as scape goats, or political distractions; what other feelings can those who really are adhering to the laws of morality, personal responsibility, and a nurtured dignity express from their fear of loss and a confusion of issues not of their making? Or worse a weariness from stepping up to help and being met with both seeming insurmountable odds, and ego.

    I do believe there is hope. There are those who are simply tuning out, and turning on their ability to nurture, by simply doing. Not asking for approval. Not seeking accolades. Just seeing what needs to be done and not waiting for the system, or absence of a system to allow them to move forward. To use the familiar marketing term, some: Just Do It.

  5. Jim Lichtman Says:

    Good one, Senator.

    Just discovered your site. All of us can demonstrate a lot more principled thinking and acting in our lives.

  6. CJ Martin Says:

    I agree that morality, as an issue, will have an ever greater impact on our beliefs. Yet I see no vision of it that will enable it to be effective in transforming our behavior. When most people speak of morality and ethics they do so from a position of relative comfort, they are reflecting in leisure rather than acting dynamically.
    Morality can be just another tool of the demagogue. I dream of a different future where individually and collectively we recognize that moral behavior is behavior that ensures survival and that ethical behavior simply means taking responsibility for our actions. What a novel idea that we are responsible for our survival, our families, our nation and our worlds survival.

  7. Tyrdofwaitin Says:

    Well said, Sen. Hart. But without cynicism, I reflect that there are two powerful currents in the media and blogosphere that crush any moral sense that might rise to the top and gain attention: The first is the unremitting layers of our societal onion that get peeled back daily and reveal, to an increasingly numbed populous, the flagrant depths of corruption, lying and cronyism that is typically fueled by greed, greed and more greed. More disturbing still, those entities and indivduals who could be held accountable — are not! With rare exception, no one goes to jail; no one loses their livelihood; no one is asked to provide restitution, And so, Sen Hart, no one is sufficently detered from trying again and again and again to deceive and endanger the security and well being of the whole. These “revelations” make for good news stories, but little justice.

    The second powerful current of insurgency is provided by the neo-con-federates bent on bringing down the Obama presidency in any possible way they can. Needless to say, this consumes a great deal of air time — all, ostensibly, in the name of a (moral) Christian America.

    With our days awash in these tsunamis of a)discovery without justice and b) the onslaught of the righteous right (and left), there is no room for a moral sense or sensability. And then, we must candidly ask: How deep does our moral core really go?

    Peace and justice, Sen Hart.

  8. Robin L. Ore Says:

    Forest Henry Book is right when he speaks about the “duality of meanings”. It is deliberate propaganda, meant to confuse the population, straight out of George Orwell’s 1984 and Hitlers T4 Unit. Lies become Truth and simple slogans mask the complexity of any subject, especially economics, which makes no sense to anyone, anywhere.

    We have lost our manufacturing base and jobs are increasingly disappearing. The young are dependent on their parents much longer for help during transitions as the costs of living and raising children, healthcare and everything else go up and up. As people cannot make money beyond a small limit after retirement, (effectively reducing their income level), or they will be taxed in the 70% range, the extension of retirement age allows them to continue wage earning longer to help take care of their families longer. The housing bubble and crash took away the dream of a home for every family.

    We do have an obligation to future generations, just as our grandfathers sought to make our future better, but how can that be done when a private company owns the National Federal Reserve and is never audited, while corporations sell us out to Asian manufacturers?

    Meanwhile, the other attack of massive mind control propaganda AND technology continues unabated and controlled by advertising agencies and lobbyists for these same corporations and bankers, aligned contrary to Constitutional concepts of freedom, like… “Manifest Destiny. Liberty. Self-government. Equality. Individualism. Diversity. Unity.”

  9. Gary Hart Says:

    Thoughtful responses all and very welcome. Comments like these confirm my conviction that most of us want a more serious and adult conversation than either the media or the political class admit. I only question Robin Orr’s inclusion of “manifest destiny” in a list of Constitutional concepts of freedom. Once again, the purpose of this blog was to raise the question of whether we have an ethical, even moral, duty to address the great questions affecting our children’s future above the realm of politics and partisanship. Clearly, those who wish to destroy the current administration, as “Tyrdofwaitin” suggests, do not believe so.

  10. Jeff Simpson Says:

    It used to be that one could rally opposing political forces towards a common goal by appealing to a sense of duty to country. This method fails to arouse sufficient enthusiasm in today’s political climate, as party/donor loyalty trumps loyalty to country. Your idea that a transcendant appeal to a higher standard is new, and it may help to reach factions that would otherwise be unmoved by what one might refer to as ‘arguments that appeal to the thinking person.’

    Making clever, insightful, pragmatic arguments in this forum that appeal to the decreasing fraction of objective thinkers is reminiscent of preaching to the choir, but invoking higher concepts of absolute Right and Wrong may help garner popular support of the hard truths relating to resource consumption, pollution and emission consequences, foreign policy, the social safety net, and debt service.

    Reaching more voters will require a devoted grass-roots organization that cannot be subverted by politics-as-usual. I believe this will require either the formation of a new political party or a major revamp of one of the extant ones.

  11. Brian C. McCarthy Says:

    Senator, what can WE do to encourage a return to constructive, non-partisan, non-ideological debate about where this country is headed? It seems so much is poisoned by ideological and religious bias that there are no longer “good” ideas or “bad” ideas but rather things that must or must not be done based on whether one is good or evil?

    Secondly, is it still feasible for people of Christian faith such as yourself and myself to continue to argue that the Gospel of Christ is more compatible with the liberal point of view than with the conservative, or is this a lost cause? I feel that the religious folks of the right-wing frame of mind have managed to claim Christianity as their own and that those of us who read the Sermon on the Mount as a call to a philosophy not unlike American liberalism have been boxed into a corner. You are a former theology student — what can liberal minded Christians cling to when faced with an onslaught of thinking that characterizes our ideology as ungodly?

  12. Jo Says:

    It worked well for awhile. Most of the middle class did not have money to buy themselves a home with cash, so they took out a 30 year mortgage. It was better than paying rent since at the end of 30 years you owned your home.

    Wages have not kept pace with the cost of everything we need. Deregulation hurt a lot. So many people had to borrow to pay for essentials.

    The banks pay 1/3 of one percent interest on our money while charging up to 23% or more for interest on credit cards. Everyone should close their money accounts and send it over seas.

    We were encouraged to invest in the market, then along came the bubble bursts.
    Blame the government for cutting taxes, deregulating and Nafta.

  13. Victoria Cornell Says:

    To me, doing the right thing is neither moral or ethical. When you are unhappy with the government and you ask yourself why should I support higher taxes for schools when I have no children it’s like asking yourself if the 5 miles of interstate you paved in some state you’ve never been in and not likely to go to is it really worth it? You either believe in a progressive future or you don’t, you believe in a greater good or you don’t. It’s what this democracy was founded on good or bad, a belief that the future would be better in the long run as a union than it would have been under British colonialism. If the founders didn’t think they could build a better future for themselves in the long run then I don’t believe they would have written the Constitution. But I don’t think the founders were very good at the nuts-n-bolts part of government either. They put a good foundation down but couldnt figure out how to pay for it so we started in debt. Many founders were in serious debt. It seems we still can’t live within our means as a nation. But debt, finger pointing and corruption, that’s a really bad combination.

  14. mkburnes Says:

    Hello Mr. Gary Hart,

    for your light summer reading please look into FINRA case: 10-02024. please read & LOOK at all aspects of this case, and please let me know if the TRUTH came out. it is my understanding that you can listen to the recording. i, like the part about Jefferson, “stand like a rock”

    mary

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