I grew-up in a society in which truth, though always difficult to discern through the prism of varying perceptions, was objectively knowable; right was different, and objectively discernable, from wrong; wrong means could never justify right ends; and society could only function properly in the long-run if its underlying relationships were built on the trust that depends upon truthful and right conduct.
To paraphrase Lincoln’s famous observation at Gettysburg, it seems that we are now engaged in a great social experiment testing whether a society dependent on truthful and right conduct can long endure when neither attribute is accepted or promoted any longer. Though there was a time not long ago when virtually all Americans recognized that lying, cheating, and stealing, or even the appearance that one might be engaging in such behavior, was objectively wrong, it now seems as though we are experimenting with a new approach to human behavior that encourages such behavior as long as the ends are justified.
The most glaring example of this new experiment arose recently when Jonathon Gruber, an MIT professor and architect of Obamacare admitted that the Obama administration intentionally lied to the GAO and the American people in order to get the bill passed into law. Calling the lie a mere “lack of transparency,” Gruber lamented that the lie was necessary to pass a bill that he thought was needed and good—that is, that the end he sought was so righteous that it justified the lie he knew was wrong.
But what are we to expect when we have spent the better part of two generations teaching our children that truth is no longer objective and knowable, that right and wrong are simply relative value judgments, and that the personal and civic relationships built on trust are no longer as important as submission to the guiding hand of self-anointed experts. In such a world, the effort to tell the truth becomes merely the desire to be “transparent,” and the intentional decision to lie becomes just a decision to be “less transparent.” As C.S. Lewis observed,
And all the time—such is the tragicomedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. … In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
Unfortunately, after decades of engaging in this social experiment, we find “men without chests” in virtually every walk of life and political party. Yes, even among us Conservatives and Republicans we can find such geldings in our midst.
Look no further than the appearance of impropriety arising from the conduct allegedly committed by Gary Polland, our former Chair of the Harris County Republican Party, which has been detailed recently in a local blog and a complaint filed with the District Attorney’s office:
- his submission of questionable bills to Harris County for appointed legal work under the Family Code;
- his collection of millions of taxpayer’s dollars as a result of such billing practices;
- his collection of hundreds of thousands of dollars every two years from hard-earned funds raised by judicial candidates, then paid to him to place “advertisements” in his “newsletter” in hopes for his endorsement during the primary; and
- his large and ever-growing number of appointments by, and influence with, certain judges who eventually seek, or who have sought and obtained, his endorsement, which in turn allows for the submission of more and more of those questionable bills—and so on.
Whether his conduct rises to the level of being criminal, as at least one local attorney believes, is really beside the point: there was a time when we would have cared enough to say it was wrong, and to call on him to respect us—and the judges he professes to support—enough to stop it; to call on those judges who have enabled Polland’s behavior to follow Judge Farr’s lead and change their appointment practices to end this appearance of impropriety; and to call on ourselves to stop enabling Polland by stopping the underwriting and use of his for-profit slate mailer during our primaries. If his desire for more and more money is so strong that he won’t respect us enough to avoid this appearance of impropriety, and its potential impact on our party and its elected officials and candidates, why should any of us continue to respect his conduct and endorsements?
We Americans have never been so naïve or self-righteous to require those engaged in public affairs to be saints, but there was a time when we expected them to at least know that lying, cheating, and stealing was wrong; that such behavior could never be justified by the ends sought; and that even the appearance of such behavior should be avoided.
If we want the Grubers to stop lying to us, and the Pollands to respect us enough to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, than we will have to demand an end to this experiment that is rotting our society.