The term “moral clarity” gets tossed around a lot in political rhetoric, especially from the conservative side, but it’s pretty difficult to find it actually being practiced. It’s as if the very definition of morality has been turned on its head to mean what Bush (and his followers) want it to mean, rather than adhering to any actual definition of morality. And, if the definition is not actually clear, how can it be acted upon?
“Moral clarity” has been used for too long as a propaganda tool by the right, to the point where it has become unrecognizable and meaningless. The gap between rhetoric and action is just too deep and wide, and that gap is at the root of nearly every issue we face from the economy to terrorism. Without true moral clarity, you can’t “win hearts and minds” as the saying goes. And, without hearts and minds, you’re dead in the water.
It’s a contradiction that liberals have been harping on for years (and I’ve written about it as well calling the Bush Admin out for choosing PR over policy for starters) and it is an important discussion the nation needs to engage with great intensity if we are going to reestablish our footing and our vision on a wide range of issues.
True moral clarity requires strong leadership, bipartisan engagement and a defined vision that allows an actionable response. The Bush White House has shown none of these attributes the past 8 years.
The brutal truth is that the outgoing president has never been a man of moral clarity in regard to policy and its implementation. Rather, he has been a steadfast apologist, proffered an eliminationist perspective and practiced the skirting of Constitutional law and human rights to secure political power, enforce American hegemony around the world and conservative “values” at home. It’s universally seen as a failure to some degree because of this very moral contradiction. Not surprisingly, the President shows not one iota of understanding of this fact. In his farewell address last night, George W. Bush, said the following:
As we address these challenges – and others we cannot foresee tonight – America must maintain our moral clarity. I have often spoken to you about good and evil. This has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere. Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right. This nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must always be willing to act in their defense and to advance the cause of peace. (emphasis added)
There’s a basic moral contradiction in Bush’s statement above: Is it moral to create the circumstances (invading Iraq under false pretense) where innocent Iraqi’s are murdered in order to advance the American ideology of freedom and democracy? Further, is it moral to kill some Iraqi’s to free the rest from oppression and despair? Or are those an exception to Bush’s moral clarity?
Over at Washington Monthly, Steve Benen notices the same hypocrisy at work in a later very similar statement from the address when the President said:
Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks. There are things I would do differently if given the chance. Yet I’ve always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right.”
When reflecting on his two terms, in other words, Bush’s argument is that he didn’t deliberately fail. He acted with the nation’s best interests in mind? He did what he thought was right? Well, of course he did. What president goes around trying to undermine the country, making decisions he hopes are wrong?
The president, in this sense, set the bar as low as it can go. When parents tell a little-leaguer, “It doesn’t matter if you succeed, just do your very best,” it’s the right way to offer support to a child. Similarly, Bush seems to think having the right intentions, as he perceives them, should count, regardless of the results. He’s effectively asking the nation, “How about an ‘A’ for effort?”
I’ve heard quite a few Bush defenders of late quibble with the notion that his presidency should be considered an abject failure. But how much debate can there really be when Bush’s pitch to Americans can be boiled down to, “I gave it my best shot”?
Not much of course.
Now we have to find the path of true clarity. Rather than getting lost in moral ambiguity, apologia and eliminationism, we need to embrace non-partisan good old hard work and the power of intelligent ideas and programs that we know through experience actually work.
And, as far as morality is concerned, we need to disengage from the old tribalist and nationalist jingoism and patriotic threat mongering that has defined the past two terms. The problems before us are dire and serious. The time for partisan politics as usual is long gone.
And, for starters, how do we actually apply moral clarity in a world of such profound violence and atrocities?