Morality - It’s Strictly Personal

Friday, February 19, 2010 by Harriet Fraad

Obama seems like an upstanding, morally righteous American. He respects his wife, is kind to his children, and attends church, the small details of permitting torture, deadly bombings and a six billion dollar a week budget for wars not withstanding. One in four American children is on food stamps and experiences hunger. One out of two of our children will be hungry at some point in his and her childhood. People are desperate, jobless and without a home. Three hundred Pakistani civilians, mostly women and children died from Obama’s unmanned drones. He is a moral man, an articulate, literate, sexually faithful, good guy.

Kenneth Starr was responsible for smearing Clinton to the point of suggested impeachment for his “crime” of sex with a congressional page. Starr’s star Christian ideals were cited as a reason to grant him the presidency of Baylor University, a Christian school of higher learning. Naturally, “moral” Christians are not alone here. Senator Joseph Lieberman, the congressional poster child for Orthodox Judaism reversed his positions on every liberal platform and greatly assisted Connecticut’s insurance industry in gutting the now almost fatally weakened US Health Care Bill. No doubt Lieberman’s morals will reward him financially.

Was social morality ever a priority in our great democracy? That is a complicated question. Our democracy, which was a great advance in 1776, was built on ethnic cleansing of Native Americans. Thomas Jefferson who owned slaves drafted our remarkable Constitution. In both cases, America’s democratic ideals were radically separate from war and finance. Democracy never did apply to the US work world where people who are lucky enough to have jobs have no voice in what they produce or where the profits go.

There was a recent time, during the 1960s and 1970s where racial injustice, the unjust war in Vietnam, and sexual discrimination caused such ethical and social outrage that people rose up, protested, and changed America. The basic economic system and capitalism’s undemocratic structure was largely unquestioned but war atrocities and discrimination moved Americans. What has changed since then to narrow our definitions of ethics and morality to personal and sexual behavior? Why were Cheney and Bush not accused of perjury and mass murder for lying about the reasons for the war against Iraq and causing the deaths of over 4,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis? Maybe we can figure out that mystery by looking at what has changed in American life.

In the 1960s America was still king of the world. We were the only industrialized nation to survive World War Two with an intact economy. There were ample jobs and opportunities for advancement, as long as you were white and male.  The civil rights and women’s movements may well have been in part attempts by groups marginalized in our time of unparalleled prosperity, to share in the American dream. That dream began its slow death in the 1970s as Europe, Japan and China were able to compete, jobs were outsourced, sophisticated, computers replaced workers, and costs increased. (This economic development is developed and elaborated by R.D. Wolff’s economics writing on this website.) Wages froze. The ever-increasing living standard of US citizens died.

With the death of the American dream of every generation earning and consuming more, than its forbearers, earnings became more and more unequal. In 1970, we were the most egalitarian nation in the Western industrialized world. Now we are the least egalitarian. The mass of the American people may correctly understand that money talks and they have an ever-fainter voice in the political decisions that shape their lives. Americans may have retreated from their own sense of helplessness. People do not want to face their own helplessness. Rather than face that painful truth, Americans may be colluding with their oppressors. The great ethical moral decisions that effect American life seem out of the control of those without money to pay candidates or fund issue campaigns. People may not want to ask painful questions such as, “Is our money used for the ethical purposes we believe in? Where are our taxes going and to whom?” Americans may now assume as given a tax structure that favors the richest Americans. After all, taxes on the rich have been halved while taxes on the middle class have exploded. They may not want to pay taxes at all and just say “No” as the Republicans, and Tea Party members do. They, in the words of Sarah Palin may be “going rogue.”

Sexual morality with its focus on the minutia of use of one’s genitals, may feel like an ethical moral decision Americans can make. Their judgment is important. It governs their lives in that area. Maybe personal and sexual ethics are the one small area in which average US citizen can control his/her life. In personal relationships Americans are less overwhelmed and helpless. That is where their ethics still count.

If that is the case Obama can still be a moral ethical leader as well as a war criminal perpetrating crimes against humanity. Bush and Cheney are not being charged with high crimes such as perjury, treason, torture and mass murder. Clinton may be almost impeached for a sexual breach.

This is a question to ponder.