Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Misplaced Moral Priorities

by: R.J. Moeller

I doubt that I will find myself alone in acknowledging a deep regret for the inappropriate way in which I treated my parents (pictured below, from 1988) and other influential adults during my teen years. I was never an explicitly devious kid, but to my shame I treated the good people in my life, the people who cared about me more than anything in this world, with frequent disrespect and animosity.

Conversely, I had little problem showing my admiration for the most delinquent of characters from my neighborhood, school and church. I treated troublemaking older kids who convinced me to do things like throw rocks through the windows of a local warehouse with more kindness and deference than I did my own mother who was at that same moment likely at home trying to get meatball stains out of my Ninja Turtles sweatpants.

In retrospect, I am convinced that as a direct result of my improperly organized affections, I spent many years of my life an angry, confused kid. I can see so much more clearly now the wisdom contained in the old axiom: “Those who are good to the bad will be bad to the good.” Or as I’ve also heard it: “Those who are tough to the good will be good to the tough.”

The internal moral compass each of us lives and dies by is similar to a real, directional compass in that it can be thrown off its proper bearings. A defective compass out in the woods is worse than useless, and once it has been compromised, you must either identify the root cause for its defection or obtain an entirely new one. Likewise, possessing a defective moral compass when attempting to navigate through life’s dense terrain is equally worthless. The way we live, the way we treat people, the way we think about things are not wholly separate things that take place inside of individual vacuums. Our thoughts, attitudes and actions have ripple effects.

Perhaps it’s because I’m more conscious of the need for moral clarity and consistency in my own personal life now, but when I hear American leaders and government officials rationalize away the evil deeds of evil people in the world, or as is more frequently the case, remain silent in the face of evil, I feel a twinge of self-recognition in light of their morally inverted shortsightedness.

There is in fact no contradiction between personally showing kindness to someone who doesn’t deserve it, to “turning the other cheek” when personally slighted or offended, and the identification and denouncement of immoral, illegal or depraved actions (or people). There is also, of course, a legitimate need for our foreign policy leaders to conduct themselves with an appropriate level of diplomatic decorum when interacting with national figureheads around the globe.

But just as in the case of an individual who make a regular habit of reserving their vitriol for the decent people in their lives, and civility for the indecent people, a nation too can lose its moral bearings by constantly misusing their emotional capital.

When time after time, year after year, a citizenry hears from some of its most prominent and influential voices that we ought to treat murderous foreign enemies abroad better than we do our political rivals at home, new generations of citizens can’t help but grow up morally stunted and confused.

A nation that raises children to excuse the hate-filled threats of murderous dictators around the globe more readily than the taunts from an opposing baseball team’s fans is in crisis.

Truly, our problem as a nation and people isn’t that we don’t care enough, that we aren’t capable of showing enough compassion. It’s that we care about the wrong things and in the wrong ways. We show compassion to the wrong people and show it in the wrong ways.

The most recent example of what I’m alluding to is the difference in the public statements from the current administration regarding, on the one hand, the courageous protesters in Iran last month, and on the other, conservatives such as George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin.

For 30 years, fanatical Islamic terrorists have run a repressive theocratic state in Iran. Until 9/11 and Al Qaeda, no single entity had killed as many American citizens in recent history as the regime in Tehran. For the past 5 years that same regime has fueled insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, resulting in the deaths of US soldiers. Iran has been accruing the technology, and producing the material, to build nuclear weapons. Iranian leaders, regardless the party that happens to be running Congress or the White House, have consistently and openly preached “Death to America”, “Death to Great Britain”, and “Death to Israel” on national television. It is the stated goal of the mullahs in Iran to “wipe Israel off the map” in the near future, and to then come for the “Great Satan.” (Great Satan = us.)

In such an inhospitable, dangerous environment, and in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, tens of thousands of Iranian citizens marched in open defiance of their dictatorial government to protest the corrupt results of their nation’s presidential election. The seedlings of an organic revolution, one that if followed far enough could have potentially ensured our ability to avoid military conflict with Iran, weren’t offered a single drop of the much-needed rhetorical water President Obama has been sprinkling on Americans looking for “change” since 2007.

The man who, with nothing more than his talent for reading scripted speeches well, possesses a supposed ability to change the lives of people and fates of entire nations remained silent when even the French were compelled to speak out in support of the Iranian dissidents.

The same Sharia government that currently subjugates women as second-class citizens, executes homosexuals, murders political dissenters, and has no interest in “going green” with cap-and-trade legislation could not rouse the ire of modern liberals. The Left’s visible and vocal moral indignation, it seems, is reserved solely for the values and elected representatives of those dangerous soccer moms driving around Red State America with a Jesus-fish and “Bush-Cheney ‘04” bumper sticker on their minivan.

The likes of Barack Obama, Paul Krugman, and Keith Olbermann apparently end up running their “righteous anger” wells so bone-dry castigating conservatives with funny accents during election seasons that the Left has little, if anything, of substance to offer when we need them to make even the most rudimentary condemnations of a legitimate enemy. Or in the case of the Iranian protestors, similar to the freedom-loving dissidents in the gulags of the former USSR during the Cold War, when we need them to lend vocal and moral support to people yearning (and dying) for liberty’s sake.

Many in the media and congress were so sure President Bush and Dick Cheney were the epitome of evil that they felt entirely comfortable and justified in using some of the most degrading, disrespectful, and undermining rhetoric any administration has ever faced. Such outspoken critics clearly knew the power contained in their own words. They knew the world was watching and listening to what the United States and her leaders did and said about the Bush administration.

The American media, with an explicit intent to help sway voters’ opinions, never stopped telling us how unpopular President Bush was in Paris, London, Buenos Aires and everywhere in between. The message was clear: conservatives aren’t simply wrong; they are evil and dangerous and we should listen to the folks in Belgium and Crete who are confirming it.

Such misplaced, misapplied anger and hostility unhinges one’s moral compass. It has to.

As a result, we find ourselves in a time and place where the American president has convinced himself, and sadly millions of Americans, that the only real problem between the irreconcilable wing of Islam (embodied by the murderous rulers in Iran) and the United States (the freest, most prosperous, most honorable nation in human history) is that we haven’t been nice enough yet. As if the main thing we’ve bee missing in our attempts to peaceably resolve the differences between our two countries is a public display of moral ambivalence towards the latest heinous acts the Iranian government perpetually commits against its own people.

Real compassion is compassion that comes to the defense of the defenseless. Real change, in a place like Iran, would be a regime change. The genocide in Darfur that celebrities like George Clooney have raised awareness about would end tomorrow if we razed the strongholds of the Muslim murderers who are slaughtering their own fellow countrymen, women and children. Iran and North Korea act with hostile, reckless abandon not because we’ve been mean, but because they are.

Of course the world is a complicated place, and no political party or ideology has a monopoly on the mishandling of important foreign policy matters. But if our leaders, from either side of the political aisle, continue to misdirect our strongest collective moral outrage (and subsequent actions) at shaming, humiliating, and demonizing political foes here at home, we will have no real hope of mustering the quality and quantity of moral fortitude required to defeat enemies abroad.

When personalities and polls, instead of principles, are the driving force behind our politics everyone loses.

Barack Obama isn’t evil for failing to speak out against the mullahs in Iran with the same gusto he did against George W. Bush, John McCain and Sarah Palin. He’s just wrong.