ON MORALITY

Posted in Rants on July 8th, 2009 by Ed

Perhaps at some point in the last eight years you've seen the cheeky "Can someone give Bush a blowjob so we can impeach him?" bumper stickers. Recent events have underscored just how much truth lies beneath that rather simple joke.

Ever since his Argentine Escapade the calls for Mark Sanford to resign have swelled into a deafening chorus. Everyone from the state GOP to the Democrats to the six largest newspapers in the state to his dog Skip have lined up to kick the Governor while he's down. There is near unanimous agreement that Sanford Must Go. But why? I suppose he did lie about his whereabouts and the idea of the Governor simply disappearing for a few days at a time is admittedly unusual, but I don't think either of those constitute a crime. What it boils down to is a simple issue of morality: Mark Sanford Must Go because he is a Bad Person. A month ago, before any of this happened, of course no one was calling on him to resign. Back then he was merely a horrendous Governor, which is OK as long as one is not simultaneously a Bad Person.

South Carolina is a swampy shithole with a couple of nice beaches and an unemployment rate second only to Michigan. In fact, South Carolina has the second-largest number of counties with official unemployment rates over 20% according to the May data – which is particularly stunning given that the official rates are wildly understated. (Click here for an interactive and larger map)

unempmap

Despite the rather obvious fact that his state is an economically devastated backwater, I'm sure you all recall that Gov. Sanford famously rejected the offer of $700,000,000 in Federal stimulus funds. Sure, the money was needed to prevent the layoff of 4,000 public school teachers and 700 prison guards, but Sanford decided that grandstanding for the Teabagging crowd was more important. It was more important – for him and his political ambitions. Not so much for the state.

See, this makes Sanford a bad Governor. A really bad one. It would have made perfect sense if there were calls for him to resign or efforts to impeach him. He violated his basic responsibility for the welfare of his state. Thank god he had a mistress so the residents of SC could be rid of him.

It recalls one of my favorite examples of the Bad Person/Bad Public Servant dichotomy. There have been many small-minded nitwits in the Cabinet over the years – especially since 1980, oddly enough – but few as talentless as James Watt. As Reagan's first Secretary of the Interior, Watt:

decreased funding for environmental programs, restructured the department to decrease federal regulatory power, wished to eliminate the Land and Water Conservation Fund (which had been designed to increase the size of National Wildlife Refuges and other protected land), eased regulations on oil and mining companies, and favored opening wilderness areas and shorelands for oil and gas leases. Watt resisted accepting donations of private land to be used for conservation purposes and suggested that all 80 million acres (320,000 km²) of undeveloped land in the United States be opened for drilling and mining by the year 2000. The area leased to coal mining companies quintupled during his term as Secretary of the Interior. Watt proudly boasted that he leased "a billion acres" (4 million km²) of U.S. coastal waters, even though only a small portion of that area would ever be drilled. Watt once stated, "We will mine more, drill more, cut more timber." He also mentioned his Christian faith when discussing his approach to environmental management. Speaking before Congress, he once said, "I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations."

Other cute Watt quotes included describing environmentalists as, "a left-wing cult dedicated to bringing down the type of government I believe in" and "A tree's a tree. How many more do you need to look at?"

Sounds like just about the worst Secretary of the Interior on Earth, right? The calls for him to resign must have been deafening, right? Well, not really. Then he held a press conference in which he responded to a question about diversity in his office with the immortal quote: "We have every kind of mix you can have. I have a black, I have a woman, two Jews and a cripple." Two weeks later he was gone.

We are, as both a society and political system, wholly taken in by the delusion that everything that elected officials do is immune to judgment. Of course we blame them for things and hold things against them during elections, but we insist that you can't yank an elected official out of office just because you Don't Agree with Him. It's all just a difference of opinion. Agree to disagree. That's a noble idea, but it doesn't mean that we have to shovel the idea of objective right and wrong into a roaring furnace. A president who enters office with a large budget surplus and drives the budget, the economy, and the nation into the ground is a bad president. A Governor who ignores the interests of his state because he's eyeballing the White House is a bad Governor. Unfortunately the only thing we can agree upon are cartoonishly oversimplified moral judgments – he cheated on his wife, she embezzled money, he used to do drugs, and whatever else offends our collective puritanical side. Sure, South Carolinians are lucky to be ridding themselves of Sanford. But how pathetic are their reasons?