Editor’s note: “Look Back” is a series designed to highlight articles from the Good Faith Media archives that remain relevant or historically interesting. If you have an article from our archives that you’d like us to consider including in this series, please email your suggestion to firstname.lastname@example.org. A version of this article first appeared at EthicsDaily.com on June 10, 2014. At the time of publication, Dawes was managing editor at EthicsDaily.com.
When did decisions stop being based on the right thing to do?
Not a new question, but one that needs constant examination when one considers political expedience. That is, the use of words and actions calculated to help a candidate or party get votes.
For example, in noting that immigration remains a contentious issue among Texas Republicans, Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Anna Tinsley writes, “Some delegates say they are not satisfied with their party’s choice two years ago to approve a controversial softer approach. … Others say that plank is crucial to the party’s future and their ability to attract the fastest growing population group in the state: Hispanics.”
In March, USA Today reporter Alan Gomez made similar comments regarding national elections. “Several Republicans joined a push for an immigration bill through the Senate they said would improve GOP standing among Hispanics.”
Is the legislation being proposed because these officials believe it is right or because it might help them get reelected?
While the approach might seem subtler, the two-month deadline set forth by Democrats for the Republican-controlled House to pass legislation is likely part of a larger strategy to win midterm elections as well.
Immigration reform is needed sooner than later, but the timing of this announcement is calculated with an eye to securing the Hispanic vote rather than due to an urgency to repair a broken system.
If it hurts Republicans for immigration reform to be delayed until after an election or for Obama to act unilaterally, Democrats are likely not going to put forth serious effort at compromise legislation, as this would remove a key talking point used against the GOP.
This highlights another example of acting based on political calculations rather than on what is the right thing to do: choosing to address issues at a politically expedient time.
Washington Post columnist Dan Balz observed that Obama has recently been “trying to push all the right buttons” by speaking about pay equity, minimum wage and immigration reform to encourage Democrats to vote in the midterm elections. The timing is not coincidental.
This bipartisan practice is exacerbated by those voters who support or oppose a politician based on their stance on a single issue.
If a candidate is “for” the issue, they get a vote. If they are “against” it, no matter their reasons or how logical their explanation, they do not.
All of this fuels a dysfunctional political system, resulting in gridlock in our nation’s capital, as future votes in future elections are considered more carefully than what is right and what advances the common good.
In the film, “The Adjustment Bureau,” Matt Damon portrays a politician running for office.
In a concession speech, he reads the prepared script until, suddenly, he stops to reveal that the story he told was a lie.
“[The story] had some traction with the focus group, so we kept using it. But it’s not true,” Damon said.
He then offered candid remarks about running for office. “Here’s the thing; this isn’t even my tie. It was chosen by a group of specialists,” Damon revealed.
These advisers, he continued, have informed me “if you want to get a working man’s vote, you need to scuff up your shoes a little bit. But you can’t scuff them up so much that you alienate the lawyers and the bankers because you need them to pay for the specialists.”
I think of this scene often around election season, assuming that candidates are basing their actions, positions and speeches on what will garner the most votes more than on what they believe to be right.
Is this pessimistic? At least a little. Is it accurate?
Making decisions – from clothing to speeches to passing legislation – based on what will result in the needed votes is morally troublesome, at best, and, at worst, pandering.
It might secure an election, but it raises an important question about the ethics of a candidate or political party: Will they do what is right or what is politically profitable once in office?
As Robert Parham, executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, stated in a recent editorial, it is important to make decisions based on what is the right thing to do.
This is particularly true in politics where decisions about the common good of our nation are to be sought and found. Would that our nation’s leaders would heed that advice.