An Amoral Nation
It wasn't always overt. Many talked about “sincerity” while others fretted that the candidates are “hard to believe.” A whole host of other character traits were bandied about in assessing which candidate can be trusted. But trusted to do what? In each case our fellow citizens weren’t concerned about the health of the republic--which only principles can insure. They merely wanted to know who will give them “more stuff” now.
There was a completely amoral tone that the permeated the conversations. And it reflects the campaign of both candidates. Obama is clear: he lists all the “free stuff” he’ll give you while making it clear you won’t have to pay for it. He’d fund it from the top 1-2 percent of high earners. You don’t have to work and earn it--as virtue would require. You’ll get someone else’s hard earned wealth--as expediency allows. Mere expediency is the antithesis of principle. If we can get away with expropriating others wealth for now, let’s do it. If they “go Galt” tomorrow ... well, tomorrow will be another day.
What does Mr. Romney offer in return? In the second debate he assures us that the “top 5 percent will continue to pay 60 percent, as they do today. I’m not looking to cut taxes for wealthy people. I am looking to cut taxes for middle-income people.” You’ll still get the government goods and services but you won’t have to pay for it. We’ll still get the rich to foot the bill. No principle is cited and none can be detected. Why, then, would we expect to see the voter apply principles to make an informed choice? When it comes to the expedient of getting “free stuff” paid by the rich, who is more believable?
The choice of principle versus mere expediency is exemplified by the President’s addition of $5 trillion to the debt. If our nation was founded on the virtues of industry and frugality (as Ben Franklin would express it), then what could be more profligate than uncontrolled spending funded by overwhelming debt? Mere expediency allows one to weigh the pleasures of today--which are concrete--while downplaying the costs of tomorrow--which are not in sight. To quote our President, “We don't have to worry about it short term.”
Prudence is another virtue prized by our founding fathers. Living beyond one’s means is recklessness. Excessive borrowing allows one the expedient of funding government services in the short run while deferring payments to the future. The President admits it: “Right now interest rates are low because people still consider the United States the safest and greatest country on earth, rightfully so, but it is a problem long term and even medium-term.” Actually, it’s the Fed that is artificially lowering rates but regardless of the cause we have what is known as a “teaser rate” that will someday reset higher similar to the reckless subprime lending that allowed borrowers to get low monthly payments with “teaser rates.” Let’s remember what profligate borrowing did to the private sector as we ponder what’s in store for the federal government. But “we don’t have to worry about it short term.”
Romney gets credit for making this a moral issue in the first debate. “I'm glad you raised that, and it's a -- it's a critical issue. I think it's not just an economic issue, I think it's a moral issue. I think it's, frankly, not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in, knowing those burdens are going to be passed on to the next generation and they're going to be paying the interest and the principal all their lives. And the amount of debt we're adding, at a trillion a year, is simply not moral.”
Bravo! Principles are long-term in nature. And Romney returned to enduring principles towards the end of his first debate when he said: “The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The role of government is to promote and protect the principles of those documents.” He discussed “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” but these principles weren’t deployed through out his first debate as arbiters of policy; and they were totally absent from the second debate. It was Obama, in the second debate, who said “I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world’s ever known. I believe in self-reliance and individual initiative and risk takers being rewarded.” Yet every policy he advocates takes us down the road to socialism. Principles are not slogans. They aren’t boilerplate rhetoric inserted to pay homage to our past. They must be deployed in the present. Each policy must be brought forth and judged in light of the principles. They must be the arbiter of one’s policy decision as one asks is this consistent with our fundamental principles or does this contradict our principles? Neither candidate employed principles in their analysis during the second debate.
If we are talking about the principle of self-reliance we must continually ask “who earn this?” and “who does this rightfully belong?” Instead the candidates only discuss “who gets more?” at the expense of the rich or future taxpayers. A virtuous person cares how they get their wealth. An honorable person aspires to earn it. Even those temporarily down on their luck can and usually maintain their aspirations to be productive members of society.
A candidate can prove they respect the principle of “self-reliance” if they defend the property rights of every individual who rightfully produced and earned his wealth. Obama contradicts this principle and Romney shies way from it. A candidate can prove they respect the inalienable right to life, liberty, and property, when they insure that every individual can freely act to further his life, run his business, spend his earnings, and live according to his deepest spiritual values. Obama believes in paternalistic government as he has increased “regulations” to the point of strangling the economy. It’s not clear what Romney believes anymore in this regard.
The questioners in the Hofstra debate, as those asked by the man in the street, show that people want “more stuff” whether they’ve earned it or not. If Obama was smiling during the second debate, it was because he knows he was in his element. Unless Romney explicitly names and challenges the crass amoral expediency implicit in “give me more free stuff now,” he doesn’t deserve to win. It is only the dying embers of the torch of liberty in the hearts of our fellow citizens that can save us next month. If we win that reprieve, we must revitalize our culture and re-establish the moral foundation on which our nation was built. No matter who wins, the fight doesn’t end on November 6th. It just begins.