Dr. Joseph Chuman, Leader, Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County, provides this preview of his platform address for Oct. 7, at the Society Meetinghouse, 687 Larch Ave., Teaneck. The platform address, which is free and open to the public, begins at 11 a.m.
It is hard to imagine an election season like this one. Seldom have the stakes seemed so high. Seldom has the level of discourse sunk so low. Honed by the media, which thrive on combat, the warring parties seem locked in a battle of apocalyptic proportions worthy of a blockbusterHollywoodaction movie. Rather than detail and nuance, complex issues are reduced to brute ideologies; the competition for the White House winnowed to a horse race. It feels like a slug-fest.
Ethical Culture is not a partisan movement. But in its commitment to social ethics, it is assuredly political. And in this politically charged season we see ethical questions everywhere.
When speaking of ethics, let’s look at the nature of the campaign itself, and then at the bigger picture. It has been said that politics is warfare by other means. It is. Politics is combat and its aim is to vanquish one’s opponent. In this sense, one can hardly expect political campaigns to be overflowing with graciousness and nobility. Language, facts, truth itself are all transformed into expedients as one jockeys for mastery over one’s adversary. In the yen for victory, fueled by limitless amounts of money, political campaigns have the capacity to turn ugly.
I don’t recall a political campaign as debasing of decency as this one. Neither Obama nor Romney can be expected to present to the electorate unembellished truths. But, taking its cues from the Bush administration, which boasted that it ignored the “reality-based” world, the Republican campaign has been happy to unhinge its assaults on Obama from the truth. In other words, Romney and his handlers have lied as a tactic. I assume they conclude that the lie remains in the mind of the listener well after debate ensues over whether the predication was true or not.
And then there is the infamous video of Romney’s pitch to his constituents at his $50,000 a plate fundraiser in May. It was bristling with contempt and condescension for those outside Romney’s class of privileged elites. As you assuredly recall, he proffered that the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income tax perceive themselves as “victims.”
No doubt this plays into the “chronic dependency” canard, with images of “welfare queens” that Republicans have attempted to exploit at least since the Reagan era. May we assume that among these “victims” Romney includes veterans, including those receiving care for lifelong injuries they sustained in America’s wars, seniors receiving Social Security, which they spent their working years paying into, as well as Medicare, which they have also paid for? Even those receiving standard federal welfare cannot be construed among the mythical “dependent.” Most people who go onto welfare receive these benefits for a limited time, as a strategy to lead toward self-sufficiency. And for those who receive food stamps, what would Romney prefer, that they starve?
No doubt, Romney told his supporters exactly what they wanted to hear, and by doing so he underscored an American society viciously divided by class; the privileged elite who think they ownAmericaand can live off their investments and the rest of us who need to work for a living.
Not only did Romney aggravate the complaint that he does not relate to or care about the average person, he also gave us a candid look into his world view. That speech was no gaffe. This segues into the ethics of the bigger picture.
Obama tells us that that he and his opponent present two vastly different visions ofAmerica. He is right. Though both parties and candidates are in the hands of big money, this campaign rises beyond a contest between “twiddle-dee and twiddle-dum.”
In place of government support to those in need, when they are in need, Romney proposes stripped-down government support that allegedly will reinvigorate individual drive and initiative so that Americans will never have to entertain being victims. Obama wants to prime the pump of the economy with government support.
In a sense, both candidates present a dichotomous, black and white depiction of their positions. As noted, another casualty of politics is detail and nuance. Whether Obama can succeed with four more years, is unknown, but history has assessed Romney’s approach to be factually unsupportable. In the first place, the “supply side,” “trickle down” approach has been tried, and it has failed time and again. Deregulation and freeing the market of constraints does not lift all boats. It just makes the rich richer. If those who own huge wealth used their resources to invest in American jobs, arguably it would mitigate unemployment. But they don’t. They take the money they save on tax reductions and most likely invest it overseas, following cheap labor in a globalized world.
Secondly, the ideology asserting that government support foments dependency that weakens self-reliance is false across the board. The GI bill, government subsidies for mortgages, support for education and other robust government programs, have not eviscerated individual initiative. Quite the contrary: They have supported men and women in such a way that they have been able to move ahead toward greater prosperity and fiscal independence. In short, it has been government programs that have built the middle class, which Republicans so felicitously are willing to destroy for the sake of the aggrandizement of the super-privileged.
No candidate, no political party has a monopoly on ethics. But it would be naïve to avoid concluding that some may be more ethical than others. But in this raw political jousting match, it is my conclusion that our politics could use a massive infusion of ethical values all around.
In my address on Oct. 7, I will be speaking on “A Politics That Is Worthy of Us.” I hope that you can join me.