Today’s StarTribune features a commentary by David Brooks that highlights many positive societal changes since the early 90s that suggest America is becoming more virtuous. For example, family violence, violent crime, violence by teens, drunk driving fatalities, hard liquour consumption, teen pregnancy, abortions, the number of children living in poverty, divorce rates and teen suicide are all declining. It’s strange that I haven’t seen the front page headlines about these trends, but if the Strib let this story run then it must be true.
But wait, out of their commitment to providing fair and balanced perspective, the Strib’s editorial staff had to weigh in as well with an editorial entitled “Moral revival: Not with both eyes open”. After first calling our attention to Brooks’ column “on the opposite page” (um, oh yeah, the right hand page) they note, “With one eye open, he runs through a litany of good news.” This is followed by a flying “but”-monkey bigger than anything in the Wizard of Oz: “These are indeed wonderful trends to celebrate. And, as Brooks suggests, they are part of an improved climate of private virtue. But Brooks sees only half the picture. If he opened his other eye — his eye on public virtue — his claims of a clear moral revival would quickly blur.”
The editorial then launches into a series of rhetorical questions, which means they weren’t really expecting responses (easy to do when you’re a one-way medium). Well, in my best Samuel L. Jackson voice, “Allow me to retort.”
Let’s look at the public side. Is it moral to lead a nation to war based on false and selective information?
Is it moral to sit on your thumb and let terrorists take pot shots at your civilians and military personnel such as in the first WTC bombing, the attack on the Khobar Towers, the attack on the Cole, the…well, you get the picture. Or maybe you’d look at the intelligence reports gathered during the previous administration’s terms that thought there were WMDs in Iraq, or the public statements of prominent politicians with access to top secret intelligence data like both Clintons and Kerry, Edwards, Daschle, Byrd, Pelosi and others that openly stated they believed Saddam had WMDs, including this statement by Hillary Clinton on Oct. 8, 2002:
“In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well affects American security.” (HT: John Hawkins)
I’m sorry, I’m forgetting the question. It was something about using false and selective information, right? As I scan the list, though, I notice there’s nothing there about the morality of deliberately and systematically undermining the efforts of your nation’s troops and giving comfort to their enemies.
Is it virtuous to pursue policies that eliminate medical care for the poorest people?
Would these be the poor people who, whether due to this administration’s policies or the overall increase in “private virtue” are declining in number?
Where’s the morality in lavishing ever more tax advantages on the wealthy while the economy produces more inequality and less social mobility?
Oh, really? Funny, that right-wing rag the New York Times, had an article on July 29 entitled “Minority Owned Businesses Are on the Rise” which reported these numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau (emphasis mine):
In 2002, African-Americans owned 1.2 million businesses, an increase of 45 percent, or more than four times the national growth rate. The number of Hispanic-owned businesses grew 31 percent, or about three times the overall growth rate, to 1.6 million businesses. The number of Asian-owned businesses grew 24 percent over the period. The number of businesses owned by women increased by 20 percent, to 6.5 million, in the period.
Say, you don’t think certain tax advantages had anything to do with that, do you?
Is it virtuous to steal millions from employees, pensioners and stockholders in the name of free enterprise?
You know, this isn’t moral. So what was the Clinton administration doing in the 1990s while Enron, WorldCom, Tyco and Global Crossing were ripping everyone off?
Is it acceptable to spread rumors and lies about your political opponent in order to get votes?
Now let’s not always see the same hands … anyone else want to answer this question? The crazy NARAL kids out in the hall? Senator Kennedy? Senator Reid? In the front there, Senator Boxer? (Switching to Ben Stein voice now) Schumer? Schumer?
Is it not arrogant and presumptuous for leaders to declare “God bless America” when, perhaps, America should worry whether its public actions in the world match up to its claims of divine guidance and match up to its progress on private virtue?
Whoops, there goes my hotline. Hang on, I think the Big Guy might want to answer this one. Just a sec. Uh-uh. Yep. Uh-uh. Okay, so it’s the “don’t try to remove the mote from your brother’s eye until after you’ve removed the log from your own” thing. Okay, got it. I’ll pass it along.
In posing these questions, we make no claims of moral superiority. (Good thing – we’d hate to get into whether or not it’s moral to inflate your readership statistics in order to get more money from advertisers.) We simply seek a wider view. As Brooks suggests, a revival in private morality is a wonderful thing. If that revival is truly genuine it will soon spread to the public side. When it does we can all rejoice.
So you say now. But when the time comes I’m sure there’s more than a teensy-tiny chance you’ll find something to complain about (unless a Democrat is in office by then).
Doug at Bogus Gold has more commentary on this editorial.