Whatever happened to ethics? Is there still a place for them in American politics? Is there a place for them in American culture?
I wonder about this daily. Ethics seem not to matter much these days. So many of us are alarmingly unconcerned with them particularly when it comes to the race for the White House. Lies and smears that once would have generated indignation and horror, have become routine and ho-hum. Their relevance to the presidential election simply does not exist for some. How can that be? How is it that so many of us can be so seemingly unconcerned with the moral principles, or the lack thereof, of the people to whom we will soon give ultimate power?
Maybe we have just forgotten what ethical behavior looks like, or perhaps “ethics” seems antiquated or overly philosophical. Heck, maybe we've just forgotten what the word means. Let's review:
1) the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.: medical ethics; Christian ethics.
2)(usually used with a singular verb) that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.
We remember this. We all know the difference between right and wrong. In fact, when it comes right down to it, whether or not we are able to live up to our ethical ideals individually, we tend to agree on what they are. Asked what we value most, many of us say equality, justice, honesty, compassion etc. So why are we not considering these values when selecting our next president?
Have we been lied to so often for so long that we are no longer fazed by it? Or, have we been lied to for so long that the lies have begun to seem like truths? I think the latter is more likely the case. The blatancy of the lies coming from the McCain/Palin camp, for example, is astounding and the lies have been repeatedly exposed as such by fact checking websites and national news personalities alike. Yet the candidates continue to boldly repeat these lies, over and over. (Obama has been found guilty of misrepresentation as well – although far less often and far less egregiously). Do they know something that we don't? Perhaps.
In his book “Why We Believe What We Believe” Andrew Newberg explains that our brains operate in such a way to that we actually do begin to believe lies, often blatant and obvious lies, if we hear them frequently enough. When I read this book, I found this bit of information disturbing. Unfortunately, some politicians have found it to be very useful.
The sad truth about it is that as a result, many people will be voting based on misinformation, fear and misrepresentation. Those who are unwilling or unlikely to research the veracity of claims made by any of the candidates will be ill-informed when it comes to candidates voting histories, their political, educational and religious backgrounds, their accomplishments and their failures. But even more sad is the fact that many of us won't care because we don't vote based on a candidate's position on important issues or on their leadership qualities or on their ethics. Many of us vote emotionally. We base our choices on who seems the nicest or most down-to-earth, or who looks most like us, or who will break racial or gender barriers.
On a recent episode of “The View,” President Bill Clinton said that we shouldn't tell people how to vote or on what they should base their votes. People vote based on many things including race, gender, personality, religious affiliation, certain issues to the exclusion of all others and that we shouldn't try to influence them to do otherwise. He was being very diplomatic. I usually agree with Clinton, but this time around I beg to differ.
While we can't tell people who they should vote for (as much as we might like to), I think that we can and should tell them how to make their choice. Should we put a woman in office just because she is a woman, even if her positions on issues that will likely effect us personally are diametrically opposed to ours? Should we put a black man in office simply because he is black, even if his ideas on education, health care or foreign policy clash with ours? Should we vote for a man because he has a lot of political experience even if much of his time in office was spent making choices and supporting policies that have had a devastating effect on our lives? Should we vote for candidates who repeat blatant lies, over and over, and seem willing to do whatever it takes, no matter how underhanded, to get elected?
Shouldn't we guide people to cast their votes based on solid information about the candidates record and positions on all, rather than just one, of the issues? Shouldn't we prod voters to consider the candidate's honesty and integrity and leadership qualities? Don't we want people to make good and thoughtful decisions?
We all offer guidance and advice to others on a regular basis when it comes to decision-making. Why should this be any different? If your daughter came to you and said she was going to turn down that scholarship to Harvard because her boyfriend was staying in Cleveland and she wanted to be close to him, would you think she was making that choice for the right reasons or would you help her to see that there might be more important issues to consider? Your coworker has been demoted and decides that she's going to tell her boss off and quit. You know that she is a single mom and needs this job to support herself and her kids. Would you counsel her to calm down and consider the all of the issues and the consequences – to make a rational rather than an emotional choice?
As American citizens who are about to vote in a presidential election, we need to listen more carefully and to get the facts. We need to forget about the superficial and get down to the nitty-gritty. Do you wonder whether Obama is a closet Muslim? Have you heard rumors about his attending a Muslim school as a child? Do you feel like you just don't “really know” him? Get to know him, check out the truth of these claims (try www.factcheck.org or www.snopes.com ), make an informed choice. Did Sarah Palin really stop the bridge to nowhere, did she break up the old boys network, has she engaged in cronyism and back-room politics, is she loved by Alaskans or hated? Check it out. There are plenty of reliable sources on the web...seek them out (NY Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post are just a few). The answers are at your fingertips if you're willing to look. Now is not the time to put blinders on and go with your gut. Now is the time to use your head.
Everyone deserves the right to vote and the right to vote for the candidate of their choice. But with every right comes responsibility. All I ask is that you vote responsibly. Educate yourself, investigate each candidate thoroughly and make your choice based on truth, not lies. This election is too important for any of us to do otherwise.