Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Morality in Politics

The question is, how do we determine which political party is more moral? If you are a Mormon trying to decide which party best fits your moral code, or any other person who considers himself of high moral caliber, how do you choose? Let's look at a few studies and statistics as a starting point.

A new nationwide study by Harvard showed that Utah, by a large margin, leads the nation in online pornography subscriptions and that eight out of the top ten states in this study voted for John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. The other top ten in order are: Alaska, Mississippi, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Arkansas, North Dakota, Louisiana, Florida, West Virginia. The ten lowest are: Montana, Idaho, Tennessee, Ohio, Oregon, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, Wyoming, Michigan.

There is a similar trend in divorce rates by state, with eight of the top ten being states that voted for McCain and are typically conservative: Nevada, Arkansas, Alabama, Wyoming, Idaho, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi. Utah is about right in the middle at number 23. The ten lowest divorce rates are: Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Illinois, Massachusetts, Georgia, Washington D.C. (obviously not a state, but I included it).

Top ten states for marijuana: Alaska, Colorado, D.C., Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, making eight of ten that went for Obama. Bottom ten: Alabama, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas, Utah.

Top ten states for illicit drug use: Alaska, Colorado, D.C., Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, making eight of ten that went for Obama. Bottom ten: Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin.

Top ten states for alcohol consumption: Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, making eight of ten that went for Obama. Bottom ten: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia.

Top ten states for teen pregnancies: Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Mississippi, Texas, Florida, California, North Carolina, Georgia, Hawaii, about half considered conservative states and half liberal. Bottom ten: North Dakota, Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Maine, Utah, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska.

So what can we learn from these facts that bears on which political ideology is more moral? Absolutely nothing. We can learn nothing at all about whether liberals or conservatives are more or less moral than the other. There is no correlation between political party or ideology and moral integrity.

This is why it makes me so upset when people imply that conservatives are more moral than liberals and why I try to point out inconsistencies, by way of examples of immorality in conservatives and liberals alike, in this way of thinking. You will find morally upstanding and morally degrading people along the entire political spectrum. But I absolutely believe that conservatives are much more derogatory towards liberal morality than the other way around.

The heart of the problem, of course, is gays and abortion. Liberals are more likely to support gay rights and even gay marriage. I do not believe that this reflects on the morality of the person. If you have two couples who are married and one set of couples supports civil unions for their gay neighbors and the other does not, does that make the first couple less moral? What if the husband of the latter couple is addicted to drugs or pornography? What if the latter couple gets a divorce because the wife committed adultery? How exactly does the support of gay rights bear on the morality of the couples? Not to mention that the percentage of gays in the nation is small, less than one in ten, making this issue so far down on the list of things that affect our morality as a nation, behind such undiscussed issues such as divorce, infidelity, pornography, drug and alcohol addiction, etc., that it is merely a wedge issue and nothing more.

As for abortion, yes I agree that it is completely immoral. I will state again that I follow the Church doctrine on this issue. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that liberals do not like abortions. You will never hear a Democratic leader state that we need more abortions, they always say that we need fewer. So this is not the case of pro-abortion v. anti-abortion, it is the case of safe and legal and rare abortions v. illegal abortions in most cases.

But if you chalk up abortion in the "immoral" category for liberals, you have to chalk up the Iraq War, torture, lack of available health care to the poor, and other issues in the "immoral" category for conservatives. Those are issues that are specifically supported by conservative leaders in America and reflect poorly on the moral standards of conservatives. But just as I am free to be a liberal and not completely support the Democratic party line on abortion, conservatives are free to not support torture and unprovoked war and the like. And this gets back to the main issue again, namely that political ideology is not a gauge for moral rectitude. There is virtue and vice in each.

Another issue that seems to define the argument that liberals are inherently less moral than conservatives is that liberalism, by definition, challenges existing institutions and emphasizes individual freedom of choice. See SO's excellent take on that here. This is used by conservatives to attack liberals as wanting to destroy traditional institutions such as marriage, religion, and the free market. While I admit that those types of people exist in the extreme minority, this is another classic example of the straw-man argument.

Instead, most use liberalism to challenge institutions which positively create harm to society. Examples of this might be the abolition of slavery, racist policies and attitudes including "Separate but Equal," the complex and broken health care system, the tyranny of monarchs and despots, and the exclusive right to vote for land-owning white males. Is there something inherently immoral about breaking those bonds?

Without opining on Joseph Smith's potential political affiliation in today's world, could there have been a more liberal religious figure than him? He challenged the very foundation of the oppressive contemporary Christian establishment by stating that God was knowable, communicated with man (as in mankind) on earth, and that man could become like him through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. He wanted nothing less than to turn the Christian institutions on their ear and reform the very way man considered his relationship with God.

So I never again want to hear the phrase "Good Mormon Republican." I don't want Mormons to be stereotyped as voting for whoever has the "R" next to their name. I don't want to overhear people in Church imply that the Republican party is the Mormon party or the moral party. I also don't want the opposite to be true. There is no predominantly moral ideology in America today. There are only political parties that contain both moral and immoral. It is time for Mormon conservatives and liberals to identify the good and bad in their ideologies and embrace the good, and I believe if they do they will find that there is still plenty to disagree and argue about.


Dan said...

I recently stopped factoring abortion into my political decisions. The way I see it:

1. Rove V. Wade is never going to change.

2. While I would like abortion to be illegal, the details of implementing said law would be extremely messy. Who gets to determine when there are valid exceptions - aka health of the mother/rape? With access to medicines like the morning after pill, how on earth do you prevent something like that? We do not need more illegal drugs. In summary, I just don't think its realistic or even desirable for our government to be any more involved in our lives in this area.

Andrew said...

Amen, great post. I was going to point out the straw-man quality of most anti-liberal rants in my comment on the post below yesterday, but I think you did a better job with it.

Steve M. said...

Well said.

The stereotype that liberals are less moral than conservatives is a huge pet peave for me. I simply don't understand how gay rights and abortion qualify as "moral" issues, but war, access to health care, and income inequality do not.

Jacob S. said...

Thanks guys. I think to many conservatives if the issue does not involve sex in some way, the moral outrage doesn't seem to erupt, or at least not as strongly. Not sure what to attribute that to, other than it is an easy black/white judgment and thus an easy wedge issue.

peter said...

Jake, I agree that you cannot and should not try to label someone as moral or immoral based solely on their political affiliation, republican or democrat. That being said…let’s talk details.

It’s convenient to be able to so neatly package away gay marriage. The issue is not the morality of gay rights, of course they have rights, but the morality of homosexuality. Homosexuals may be a small percentage of our population, but they are extremely vocal. They force these issues to the front, are not content with civil unions, and push for marriage and moral acceptance of their lifestyle. Homosexuality is less moral.

Abortion is immoral, with some possible times of use as a last resort. But I don’t know how you classify over a million abortions a year since Roe v. Wade as rare. I also agree that messy, unprofessional abortions are bad news, but if abortion wasn’t legal, would all million of those abortions last year have happened? Would over a million women have chosen unlicensed, illegal abortion?

As for some other liberal platforms…Welfare…dependency-fostering welfare is immoral. (See the March Ensign, pg. 61) Card check…I consider non-secret ballots and union bullying immoral.

Torture…Can torture qualify as a republican ideology if the republican presidential candidate was against it? That’s a hard sell, but that being said, I think torture is immoral.

Iraqi war-the start was wrong and many parts of war are immoral, but if it liberated a people from a tyrant, then by your own post there must be some morality to it. Or are we going to see that issue only in black and white?

Health care..we’ve been there. Everyone should have it…I still don’t understand how you can say that republicans don’t want any health care reform.

Trying to tie down morality in politics is not easy, and as you say, neither party has a monopoly on morality. Perhaps we need to differentiate between social liberalism and political liberalism. I don’t think they are the same thing, yet they are easily confused and mixed together. Social liberalism being the general loosening of moral standards of what is acceptable, while political liberalism would be the specific ideologies of democrats and the “liberal” party. What do you think? Are these separate or am I making something out of nothing?


Jacob S. said...

I never said abortions are rare, I said they are wrong and that even liberals want them reduced.

As for welfare, most people that receive government support have jobs and receive government support for one year or less. Almost all, something like ninety percent, are off in less four years. These are good hard-working people that need temporary assistance to make ends meet. I think it is immoral to deny them those opportunities.

I think war is almost always immoral. Self-defense is perfectly justifiable, but the Iraq War was not that. Sure it was good to get rid of Saddam, but at what cost? Millions of innocent lives, billions of dollars?

I still have never seen a single conservative leader offer anything by way of health care reform. And I still think it is wrong that our system denies basic health coverage to tens of millions of Americans.

Anyway, we could go item by item and argue the moralities involved on both sides. The point is, and we agree, that neither side is inherently moral.

As for the loosening of moral standards, I don't think that is liberal v. conservative thing. I think that is society in general becoming more and more accustomed to and accepting of immorality. There is a definite degradation, but it is in all corners of country as the long list of studies I cited in the post shows.

peter said...

Last year a great schip bill extending coverage that had dual party support was unfortunately vetoed by Bush. This year instead of that great bi-partisan effort, the democrats changed the bill to include all their favorite things and because the republicans didn't have the numbers, ignored their ideas that had contributed to the bill last year. So Democrats chalk that one up in their win column ignoring any republican contribution to the previous bill or their efforts on the one that passed. Yeah, republicans don't care about health reform.

And I guess we can say we agree because your last paragraph and mine say exactly the same things.

Jacob S. said...

I don't consider SCHIP health care reform, though I don't doubt politics was played with how it was passed. SCHIP extends coverage to children, which is great, but I am talking about a reform to the entire system, not necessarily a single payer system but that is on the table, that ensures adequate medical coverage for all Americans. Maybe we just have a different definition of what health care reform means and that is why we can't meet up on this issue.

The point I was trying to make with that last paragraph, and it was late so I probably wasn't thinking exactly clearly, is that to call moral degradation some form of liberalism unfairly casts blame on democrats and liberals. It has nothing to do with the liberal movement, it comes from all parts of society, and needs to be owned by all people no matter where they are on the political spectrum. So while I think we agree on the concept, it is the semantics that I was opposed to.