How I spend my money, where I go in my free time, and what I do at home is no one else’s business, agreed? If perfection was a job qualification then none of us would be employed, right? Criminal records MIGHT have a place in assessing qualifications for public office, but bankruptcy, addictions, and family problems are off limits, correct? What bearing do private affairs have on public matters?
These are the kinds of assertions that have been made by politicians whenever corruption has surfaced on their watch. The validity of such claims is what I wanted a group of homeschoolers to evaluate back in 1999 when I had the privilege to introduce them to the basics of debate. As I recently reviewed the document, now so many years after the Clinton impeachment hearings, I was struck by how their affirmative case has rung true.
Since then, many of our New York State politicians have been found guilty of crimes . Civility has declined. 911 rocked our nation bringing with it the emergence of anarchists and terrorism.
National debt has skyrocketed out of control. Fraud was exposed and nearly destroyed our economy and financial institutions in 2008.
The Obama administration has showcased a remarkable tolerance for corruption.Yet, despite all this, many will still ardently argue that private behavior has no bearing on public decision making. The ability of humans to compartmentalize is revered as our culture revels in denial.
You, Dear Reader, may charge that without a moral consensus the students’ solution is impractical and undo-able. Perhaps.
Where there is no moral consensus there will be a civil war of values. The worse case scenarios may be either a lapse into anarchy or dependence on autocratic rule– much like the extremes found in the Middle East. What then does all this say about the merit of the case these high school students built? Does character matter?
CHARACTER MATTERS: AFFIRMATIVE CASE NOTES
Observation 1: Resolutional Analysis
Resolved: Resolved that character is relevant in the decision making process of political leaders.
Definitions: The New Book of Knowledge 1996 states that:
• Character is: moral or ethical strength; integrity, fortitude;
• Decision Making Process is: The act of reaching a conclusion, making up one’s mind.
• The Merriam/Webster dictionary 1989 defines “relevant” as bearing on the matter at hand, political as of or relating to politics, and leader as one who leads.
Observation 2: Significance
The character of a leader affects a whole community, state, or country because his/her decisions affect all aspects of life. Decisions and actions can affect the psychological and physical states of people as seen in Nazi Germany. In issues of war, a decision can be a matter of life or death. The economy and its impact on one’s financial well-being, is not the least of things these leaders can affect. Inherent in the role of a leader is the position of role model. Decisions made can affect the behavior of a country’s citizens.
We have seen as the amount of bad character increased in the White House and Congress, we saw the decline of morality in America. For example, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, in the last 30 years, we have seen babies born to teens increase 300%. Historically, mankind has witnessed that an immoral leader can lead an entire country into ruin, as the example of Rehoboam in Ancient Israel exemplified. Obviously, the consequences of bad decisions are great.
Observation 3: Harms
A great many harms result from a lack of character.
- One harm arises from emotional decisions. When someone lacks a character base, they will make decisions based on their emotions, which are neither objective, nor necessarily rational.
- Another harm is that those lacking a moral character base will make decisions in their self-interest instead of the good of those who elected him.
- Likewise, excess tolerance will cloud one’s ability to identify wrong, and its alternative solutions, as it blurs the line of an absolute standard. This simply stated means right and wrong will be hard to discern if “anything goes”. As each person does what is right in their own eyes, it becomes “each man for himself.”
- Justice is essential to our peace and security. When lack of character moves us away from absolute standards, our cohesion, unity, sense of morality, and rule of law is threatened.
- Furthermore, previously mentioned harms lead to a rule of force, because when there is no moral standard, it becomes a rule of the strong over the weak.
- A lack of character destroys civility, as has been seen over the past few years.
- Consequently, it destroys an environment that fosters growth, research, and development in all areas.
The long range impacts of a lack of character are now being evidenced very clearly in society today. The following is from William Bennett, the Ex-Secretary of Education:
“Since 1960, the U.S. population has grown 41%, the gross domestic product nearly has tripled, and total levels of social spending by all levels of government (measured in constant 1990 dollars) have risen from $143,730,000,000 to $787,000,000,000–more than a fivefold increase. During the same 34-year period, there has been a more than 500% rise in violent crime; a greater than 400% hike in illegitimate births; a tripling of the percentage of children living in single-parent homes; a threefold increase in teenage suicides; a doubling in the divorce rate; and a drop of almost 75 points in SAT scores. During the last quarter-century, the American people increasingly have abandoned time-honored moral codes. The U.S. now is seeing the results being played out on urban streets and in hospital emergency rooms, the courts, and classrooms”
This clearly states that a national lack of moral character is extremely detrimental to all aspects of modern society. Society is now almost devoid of good role models, and people now look to whoever is popular, powerful, rich, or attractive. This a reflection of the materialistic view of people today.
Leo Collins, a social critic, says the increase in adolescent crime and immorality is linked with the lack of character education in our homes, schools, and churches. To alleviate this tragic situation [moral decay], our families, churches, schools, social organizations, and the business community must reemphasize the teaching, learning, and practice of good morals.
Observation 4: Advantages
Just as there are a great many disadvantages to a lack of moral character, there are many advantages to having moral character.
- One of the first is the consistency in the results of decisions made by people who include moral character in the process. They will usually make decisions that reflect their beliefs, and make decisions that benefit more people than just themselves. Such a leader will appeal to the highest good.
- When a leader holds himself accountable for the decisions he makes, it motivates him to research and consider each point of a decision more carefully and thoroughly.
- Such a leader will produce rules that will allow people to live cooperatively, and not decline into barbarism, where the rule of the strong prevails.
- When justice, upheld by a moral standard prevails, growth, safety, security, and creativity will increase since people are now safer and can work freely.
- A moral leader’s private decisions will also equal his public ones; there won’t be a double standard. Likewise, a moral leader is also not open to blackmail, and can make decisions unencumbered by threats.
Observation 4: Plan
We suggest that the best course of action would be that which was suggested by Mr. Leo Collins. Character education should be taught in home, at school, and at work.
The agencies that would choose basic curricular standards are the CEE, Gateways to Better Education, 4th and 5th Rs, and others similar to them. The mandate that we would suggest is to pass a law requiring character education w/ agency oversight of implement, follow up, and distribution of a block grant to those states, schools, and churches that are successful in their programs.
How can we expect our leaders to make decisions of integrity for the nation, when they fail to do so in their own lives? One might argue that it doesn’t matter what activities our leaders engage in, so long as what they do benefits the country. This is terribly shortsighted. The same logic would eliminate the need for a police force. “What does it matter if I break a law? You can’t bind your standards to me.” Sometimes life asks us to make the tough choices, even if they are personally uncomfortable. We do it not because it feels right, but because it is the right thing to do. This nation needs leaders who know the difference.