Saturday, September 10, 2011

Aspiring To Be President of A Moral Government

When someone calls a behavior immoral they need to be serious about it and they need to be ready to defend their choice of words. Many words get flung around in the perpetual political campaign that our political parties, in collaboration with the media have decided to foist upon us. Sadly, it is not always easy to determine if the “flinger” is presenting a serious idea or merely attempting to gain attention or ingratiate themselves to a particular segment of the electorate.

This week Minnesota Representative Michelle Bachmann declared that spending by our government (federal government, I presume) is immoral. It is theoretically possible that that is true. It may be that those who write the billions of dollars worth of checks issued by the government have devised a scheme whereby all that money will be used for immoral purposes. That, of course, would mean that the checks written to pay Rep. Bachmann, and to provide her with all the fringe benefits and perks of her office were also going for immoral purposes.

Since it isn’t reasonable to assume those things, I’m going to assume, instead, that Mrs. Bachmann was speaking “very loosely” as we sometimes say; using the word “immoral” to designate her disapproval of some of the federal government’s spending. Most likely, she is objecting to the fact that the federal government is spending more money that it is taking in through various sources of revenue. I think I remember that Mrs. Bachmann is a fiscal conservative. But it could also be that she is objecting to federal money being spent on programs that she considers inappropriate, various social welfare programs for example. Or it could be that she believes that the federal government is too big, that it controls an inappropriate and unsustainable share of the national economy.

I could go on assuming for some time. I would be right part of the time, wrong at other times. But why should a citizen listening to Mrs. Bachmann have to assume they know what she means when she uses the word immoral? It should be clear from her statement exactly what she believes is immoral about government spending. We should know, without guessing, what particular government programs she believes to be immoral.

Of course, such dialogue takes time and effort and a politician runs the risk that the audience’s eyes will glaze over before they can adequately explain their position and their reasons for holding it. It is much easier to find a word that will circumvent the need for explanation. Immoral is a good choice. No one – even those who are themselves immoral – tries to defend immorality. So if government spending is immoral then it is indefensible. Case closed.

But we all know that government spending is not all immoral. Indeed, one could argue that much of it is driven by moral concerns for the safety and well-being of our citizens as well as those of other nations. Mrs. Bachmann’s entire professional life has been supported by government spending, most of it federal government spending. Many of the clients whom her husband’s psychological service sees have their fees partially or wholly paid by government funds.

But Mrs. Bachmann has failed to do the hard work necessary to tell the electorate what they need to know in order to assess her discontent with the effectiveness of government. Instead she has (I assume) chosen to pander to a certain segment of the populous (the Tea Party) whom she, probably correctly, assumes is anti-government. With one mighty word, immoral, she can win their hearts. She becomes the champion of morality by using the very word in a manipulative, and arguably immoral way, obscuring both its meaning and her intention in using it.

If Mrs. Bachmann aspires to be the President of a “Christian Nation,” which she believes the U.S. to be, then we have a right to expect from her the morality – reflected in thoughtful and honest use of language – that should accompany such a position.

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