A Litmus Test for Your Principles

When the government implements a policy, there are two morality aspects involved:  the morality of the policy itself and the morality of the implementation process.  This process includes how the debate is conducted, how the politicians are elected, and how officials use or misuse their power?  

  • Are the issues presented truthfully and responsibly?
  • Are elections held honestly?
  • Are the rules followed in the legislative process?
  • Does the executive branch faithfully implement the legislation?
  • Do officials use their power to reward friends or punish enemies?

For many years the United States Senate had the rule that it required 60 votes to cutoff debate.  Effectively, that meant that 60 votes were required to pass any legislation.  As in most years neither party had 60 senators, this meant that some bipartisan support was required for any legislation.  When George W. Bush was president, some people suggested that the senate eliminate the 60 vote requirement and only require a majority of 51.  This was called the “Nuclear Option”.  The Democrats, most notably Harry Reid and Barack Obama denounced the nuclear option then when Bush was president but invoked it when Obama became president.

A litmus test of political principle is that you should be totally consistent in your views regardless of which side of the issue you are on.  I have a lot of respect for the noted attorney and political commentator Alan Derschowitz.  While Derschowitz is very liberal on most issues, he is totally even-handed on issues involving the morality of politics.  Unfortunately Derschowitz is in the minority these days.  The vast majority of liberals either support current administration policies such as using the IRS against political opponents or using executive orders instead of legislation or they just ignore the issue altogether.  

I remember a number of years ago some employees were fired for using office email to announce meetings of a “family values” group that, among other things, opposed gay marriage.  I wondered if they would have been fired if they announced meetings for a group that supported gay marriage.

I know the conservatives are certainly not blameless in this regard, but with the liberals currently in power the hypocrisy here is just particularly glaring.

Whenever there is an issue on the poltical morality, you should ask yourself if your position be any different if the opposing side used the same tactics.  Would it make a difference if George W. Bush or Barack Obama used the tactics in question?  If your opinion changes depending on the side, then you should re-examine your principles.

 (http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2013/nov/22/harry-reid/harry-reid-among-flip-floppers-senates-nuclear-opt/, http://newsbusters.org/blogs/noel-sheppard/2012/11/28/obama-fought-against-eliminating-filibuster-2005)

The “Right” to Healthcare

President Obama stated that everybody has a right to healthcare and this moral statement was a primary justification for the establishment of Obama-care.  Here the right to healthcare should more precisely be stated as the right to free healthcare, the right to have healthcare whether or not one can pay for it. 

By definition, a right is only a right if everybody can exercise the right.  We say that freedom of speech and freedom of religion are basic rights.  These are rights that everybody can exercise.  My exercising my right to say what I want or to join any religion does not take away the rights of anybody else to do the same.  

In contrast, not everybody can have free healthcare.  I might be able to claim free healthcare and you might be able to claim free healthcare but unless we make slaves of the entire medical industry, at some point, somebody has to pay for the healthcare. Therefore by definition, free healthcare cannot be a right.

A right can only be a right if it does not impose an involuntary obligation on others.  If I have the right to have someone provide me with anything, whether it be healthcare or food or shelter or shoes, at some point it confers upon somebody else the obligation to provide it.  When that person is forced to provide the service for others, the obligated person is unable to exercise the right for themselves.

It may or may not be a good policy for the federal government to provide free healthcare to those who can’t afford it, but we cannot say that anybody has the right to free healthcare.

A Starting Point for Discussing Morality

I previously blogged that the best way to analyze the effectiveness of a policy is if it rewards good choices or bad choices.  Effectiveness is only part of judging if a policy is good, however.  The other side is morality.   For a policy to be good, it must be both effective and it must be moral.

While effectiveness can be objectively measured, morality is much more subjective.  To take morality to its most basic level, I propose that for anything to be immoral, an offense must be committed.  An offense is anything that offends, displeases, or causes harm.   Offenses can be categorized as one or more of the following:

  • An offense against oneself
  • An offense against others
  • An offense against God

The definition of an offense against God is entirely subject to a person’s individual religious beliefs.  I spoke before of common assumptions.  If one is a Christian, one can assume that the New Testament is an authoritative source for what is an offense against God so two Christians can use this as a reference for a debate.  Even if the logic based upon the New Testament is flawless, it will have no impact on a Jew, Muslim, Atheist, or anyone who is not a Christian.  The same can be said for any religion.  My own personal belief is that I don’t believe there is any offense against God that is not also an offense against oneself or others.  This of course is 100% subjective.

In any case, my ongoing discussions of the morality of any issue will not involve any references to God.  I know there are those who believe that morality cannot even be discussed without the concept of God.  As I blogged previously, without shared assumptions, a starting point, there can be no meaningful discussion.   I will understand if this is your view and you totally reject everything I say on this subject.

I will further go on to state my belief that an offense only against oneself is not immoral.  It may be incredibly stupid, but it is not immoral.  If you make a poor choice and you are the only one injured by your choice, you have not made an immoral choice, just an ineffective choice.

Frequently, however, people who think their bad choices affect only themselves are quite mistaken.  They just don’t think things through fully.  For example, a person might say that riding a motorcycle without a helmet is not immoral, because the rider only injures him/herself.  If, however,  the rider suffers a brain injury and doesn’t have the resources to pay all the medical bills and provide care for him/herself, then the cost of this bad decision is born not just by the rider but by everyone else in society who must contribute to this person’s care.  Also, anyone who is dependent upon the rider, such as the rider’s children, are hurt as well.  Finally, the people who care about the rider may be emotionally devastated, in itself a severe injury.

With the caveat therefore that when we say we are only hurting ourselves, we may be mistaken, my analysis going forward will define as being possibly immoral only actions that hurt others.  This does not mean that any action that hurts others is immoral.  When you buy from Target and not Walmart, one can argue that you are hurting the people at Walmart.  This does not make your purchase immoral.  I am just saying that only an offense against others makes an act possibly immoral.  We can then debate if it actually is moral or immoral.