All politics is moral.
Really now! I think a lot of people would dispute that statement. They'll tell you politics is anything but moral. Of course, they don't think their own political beliefs are wrong, but politics is about money and power and therefore basically corrupt.
True, money and power corrupt, but politics is first of all about values. A political party looks at the values held by various members of the public and attempts to define those values in political terms and implement them through legislative directives, to oversee taxation, the judicial system and national defense.
Or they may want to bring down the national debt, safeguard our food supply, support small businesses, strengthen individual freedoms, improve educational standards and public health. Taken individually any one of the above would have the support of every American no matter what their party or political philosophy.
In a sense these are all moral imperatives, things that should be done because they are right. Philosophers have debated "The Moral Imperative," sometimes called Moral Law, for as long as they've been around. The Moral Imperative is sometimes called the conscience, or the voice of God, or even the ultimate reality. One philosopher, Immanuel Kant, linked it to pure reason.
Unfortunately, when it comes to politics, the right thing is not a matter of reason. It's a matter of perception. It's how an individual sees a situation, and it's about emotion -- how he or she feels about the situation.
Consider the health care debate. We all want our family, our friends and neighbors, our community and our nation to be healthy but don't agree on how to proceed. Should health care be a personal matter, every individual or family deciding for itself how to treat illness and pay for care? Or should the government oversee public health?
Whatever your answer, when the issue becomes political — let's say the government mandates health standards for school children — we are dealing with values. Some value the rights of the family over that of the community; the parents should decide if the child will be immunized. Others believe the government must decide certain health measures for the good of the whole; all children must be immunized.
These are moral questions, and when we elect our leaders, we look for men and women who share our values. We chose candidates for office by what they say, and more important, how they say it. Here's the point where morality breaks down and the scramble for money and power takes over.
We evaluate these words and actions as we perceive them, and any two individuals can hear the same words and perceive them differently. Furthermore, how we interpret what we hear depends upon preconditioning: our cultural background, our socioeconomic position, our friends, our church.
When an individual runs for office, he or she decides how many votes are needed to win and begins looking for blocks of people believed to offer support at the polls. The stump speeches appeal to these prospective voters. The language becomes a kind of code that says, "I share your values."
Certain words become noble and good. Others become negative, bad or even poisoned. "Taxes" top the list. No government can run without a source of income. The real issue is how government funds are spent; yet no politician can run on a pro-tax platform.
"Socialism" is another poisoned word. Every modern nation is socialized to a certain degree, but if you want to kill a health care proposal, just call it socialized medicine. Today even the word "government" has become tainted by misuse. If you think government is the enemy, try living in a time of anarchy.
Think about this next time you hear a political speech. Politics is about values, but the most basic value of all is truth. Words should be used to illuminate, not distort and manipulate.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.