National Commentary

Seizing the Moral High Ground

A subtle but decisive shift going on in the political dialogue of the current election year. It pertains not to government policy or political personalities, but operates on a deeper level, the level of core motivations and morality, including religious morality.

President Obama has taken the lead in a Democratic Party effort to seize the initiative. His speech from the steps of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. this spring set a new tone for his campaign, and one that others in his party are now emulating. It involves answering the Biblical question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” in the affirmative.

The Republicans are now making easier for Democrats to claim the moral high ground in ways that have not been seen since the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War days.

The nomination is in the bag for the GOP’s Mitt Romney, it’s ensured that there will be no moral imperative coming from that campaign. There can’t be. Romney is a radical free market type, and touting his bonafides as a crass, calculating businessman. The cruel, heartless way he reportedly bullied and assaulted a gay boy while in prep school amplifies the qualities he brags about having to succeed in business.

Matters of compassion and related generally-acknowledged universal religious values are off the table for him.

Since he can’t go into the nitty-gritty of his own Mormon faith without risking an alienation of the instrumental Christian fundamentalist component of his electoral base, about all he can say about religious morality is that freedom (that is, “might makes right”) is good and gay marriage is bad.

But what’s really knocked the Republicans out of any credible claim to morality has been the preeminence of Rep. Paul Ryan as a party leader, and especially his draconian pro-austerity budget plan. The fact that Republicans, like Romney, are embracing the outlines of Ryan’s plan is condemning them to a form of radical fiscal hedonism that is anything but moral.

Purism in politics is usually deadly, unless backed by a military prepared to elevate a dictator. Ryan is an ideologically pure child of the Vienna free market school of economics, which claims to tout the application Darwin’s theories of “natural selection” to socio-economic policy. That is, plain and simple, “might makes right” as sanctified by the axioms of so-called “Social Darwinist” principles.

Such are the pseudo-scientific arguments used to permit the rich to get richer, and “the devil take the hindmost.” Sadly and appallingly, many Republicans are unaware or unwilling to admit how radical Ryan’s ideological package really is.

This spring, President Obama was the first to call out the Ryan/GOP agenda as the “Social Darwinism” that it is, and now others in his party are following suit.

Former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate in Virginia, has been talking a lot about a religiously-grounded moral common ground rooted in compassion. “I like what motivates Democrats, we are the ‘Good Samaritan’ party,” he said in a speech in Falls Church, Virginia, last month. “We will stop and pay attention to someone in need. We don’t just walk by. We work for the underdog. We’re concerned for the gap between what is and what ought to be.”

In that speech, he derided the Republicans’ use of the term, “Obamacare” to assail the president’s Affordable Care Act as if, he said, “They think there is something wrong with the very idea of care.”

In another Falls Church address last week, he said that Republicans hate the notion of the “generational bond” that has made Social Security a success. “They want everybody to fend for themselves,” he said.

Congressman Jim Moran, at a regional Democratic convention in Northern Virginia last weekend, assailed the Republicans’ “survival of the fittest” and “winner take all” mentality. “There are greater reasons than party loyalty that motivate us,” he said. “We Democrats seek to contribute to making a more peaceful, sustainable and just world, in a conflict of ideas and fundamental beliefs.”

After many, many years, Democrats are beginning to contest for the moral high ground.