Rebuild America: Core Values

11.08.07 | 3 Comments

Earlier this week, I wrote an entry about the upcoming 2008 election and outlined some ideas about what I’d like to hear candidate’s approach in the campaign. While I fully intend to drill down on each of those topics, I’d like to start with a backdrop of core values we could all agree upon as Americans:

  • Personal Accountability
  • Personal Liberty
  • Honest and Open Communication
  • Due Process
  • Inverse Golden Rule

The items enumerated in this list bear some explanation, they are not in themselves strategies or initiatives, they are a code of behavior that represents the baseline we should demand from ourselves, our families, our friends, our communities, and our government. Let’s dive into each item with a bit more explanation before proceeding.

Personal Accountability – This is very simple to express and appears to be difficult to execute consistently for many members of our society. The concept is, you, as a citizen, are presented with a number of choices in your life. Each time you make a decision there is an outcome, more often, range of outcomes that result from your decisions. Not all of these outcomes are positive, many are negative and neutral in nature. When we make decisions, we must be prepared to accept the outcome and handle the consequences negative or positive straight on. This means, it’s not someone else’s fault nor is it another person or entity’s responsibility assist you in handling the results of your decisions. This is not to say that other people and entities might not choose to provide assistance as there are events outside the control and influence that can come into play, but personal accountability revolves around a core view and behavior that you are responsible for your actions, decisions, and consequences and that you will play the principal role in managing your life.

Think about the examples we have in our political leadership. For instance, Bill Clinton lying about his relationship with Monica Lewinski even when confronted with the evidence, he still chose to avoid taking responsibility for his actions. This does not send the right message to the populace at large, even though one can sympathize with why he might choose to deny the nature of the relationship. A more recent example from the other side of the aisle is Larry Craig’s bathroom solicitation case where initially he did the right thing, he acknowledged his actions and appeared to be ready to accept the consequences. This case is even worse because he then flip-flopped very publicly and started to chart a course to distance himself from his actions and their consequences. These examples are prevalent in our political leadership and do not reflect well upon the men and women who would lead our country. (In Craig’s case, I’m not commenting on the behavior itself, I’m commenting on the way he’s handling it. I personally believe it’s very sad that an obviously gay man is choosing, even at this late date in his life, to deny himself some inner peace and simple choose to accept his nature. I’m certain this would be a painful and costly decision, but it’s unclear to me that it would be any more painful and costly than his current situation.)

Personal Liberty – This is sure to be controversial, but, if you’re going to live with Personal Accountability the reward is Personal Liberty. What does that mean? It’s extremely simple, make any choice you like, live your life the way you choose, and pursue your own happiness. The only bounds to this liberty should be when it infringes on another person’s liberty and/or safety. The government should not be involved in any part of a citizen’s life that falls inside Personal Liberty activity. The Federal Government should concern itself with issues where the collective Personal Liberty of its citizens is placed at peril; issues of border and national security, issues of health and human welfare, issues of criminal activity, and issues of cross-cultural commerce. The State Government should focus on similar issues as the Federal Government with a smaller scope. If, for instance, the Federal Government is responsible for national security, an individual state should refrain from attacking a sovereign nation of its own volition.

Practically speaking, this would mean that if a devout Mormon wished to have multiple wives to honor the teachings of his church, then the government should not be involved in that decision provided the parties involved are of the age of majority and have consented to the arrangement. Many citizen’s would object to this practice for their own moral reasons, but practically speaking, the act when performed between consenting adults, hurts no one and is not the business of any other citizen or the government to regulate. For the government to intervene in this situation is an invasion of Personal Liberty in the most egregious way. Alternately, if a citizen of the age of majority chooses to smoke marijuana in the privacy of their own home, that person should not face prosecution because that decision is not infringing on the rights of others (if that person chooses to drive or operate heavy equipment while under the influence of a mind-altering substance, then there is an issue of public safety.) Personal Liberty means that government oversight is removed from our personal lives – the next time someone says “there should be a law” there probably shouldn’t, there should be Personal Accountability with a reward of Personal Liberty.

Honest and Open Communication – While it’s easy to complain about the present Administration and Practices, the one tragic casualty in this period in our history is Honest and Open Communication. Again, a simple concept: Sharing the available information in a responsible manner and allowing the citizens to consider the situation and come to a conclusion is gone. It has been replaced with a culture of secrecy backed by spin doctors simplifying issues to be either “good or bad, conservative or liberal, moral or immoral.” No entity can effectively function without some degree of confidentiality and it’s naive to think otherwise. But, the default stance of our government should be to share unadulterated information freely and broadly, to operate in a transparent manner, and to facilitate the Personal Accountability and Liberty of its citizens. When a question is asked there should be two responses: a) the clear and complete answer (as clear and complete as is available which could be “we don’t know”) or b) we decline to share that information at this time because it could adversely affect the situation. Note, that is not we decline to share this information forever and it should not mask activities that are illegal according to US law or would constitute bad national behavior contrary to these Core Values on the international scale.

The current example is the situation in Iraq. We continue to shed the blood of our sons and daughters under false pretenses (this is the fault of political leadership, not military leadership with the exception of those officers functioning in a political role.) While it is difficult to assess the situation as a normal citizen, the situation appears to be deteriorating into a full-scale civil war catalyzed by religious fundamentalist and often foreign national groups inside the country. The reality of the situation appears to be “there are no good options for Iraq at this time, there are only less bad options.” The will of the people on this issue is clear and growing, get the US out of Iraq. The Federal Government is not representing the will of the people and is clinging desperately to the hope that another “better option” will present itself. All of this activity is happening under the shroud of secrecy and thus it is nearly impossible to understand the nuances of the situation. In this case, clear-headed leadership with strong Core Values is required to outline the general options for Iraq and to chart a decision on an option and to facilitate its clear execution. For instance, at a meta level, those options appear to be remain in Iraq, continue to do the same things we’ve done, and hope for the situation to improve. That is being touted as the only option. Another option is, down grade the US presence in Iraq from full-scale military occupation to a supportive police force directed by the Iraqi government with the mission to identify and apprehend those engaged in criminal activity. Another option is, withdraw completely and let the chips fall where they may. An honest and open government would be outlining these and other alternatives in the quest to find the least bad option to draw this foreign policy nightmare to a respectable conclusion.

Do any of the candidates running really meet the threshold of being honest and open? Can they distinguish between the truth and a lie? Do they have the intestinal fortitude to create a culture of transparency and national dialogue? One other thought on this Core Value, the media is not helping. In fact, it is hurting by avoiding the real issues and instead reporting about the latest nude escapade of the latest disposable celebrity and handling real issues as a sound bite. A strong and independent 4th Estate is required to aid in Open and Honest Communication. The Internet is the last bastion of that activity at present where the strong bounds of journalistic integrity don’t apply either, but there are strong voices who continue to press for the truth.

Due Process – Our nation was founded and has prospered under the rule of law. It’s not perfect and never has been, but it is better than the alternative which we now seem to be pursuing. On of the primary aspects of this approach to government is Due Process meaning: citizens are innocent until proven guilty, protection from illegal search and seizure, protection from imprisonment without charge, the ability to have competent legal representation in the system, and no fear of torture-aided interrogation. Yes, it is true that if you adopt these standards, guilty parties will, from time-to-time, escape negative consequences for their actions. But it is equally true that innocent citizens are far less likely to be abused by the government while adhering to these standards. That is the price of Due Process, it is the explicit trade off that not every guilty person will be punished to protect those people who are unjustly accused and innocent of the charges of which they are accused.

Somewhere we seem to have lost the plot on this Core Value, I believe it started with the disaster called the “war on drugs” – a longer, more expensive, less effective policy than Prohibition during the 1920’s and has reached a zenith with the equally disastrous “war on terror.” In a scramble to “feel safe” our citizens are trading in their Core Values with hardly a thought and appear to be willing to overlook the crippling of Due Process when it pertains to drugs or terrorists – just so long as it doesn’t pertain to their class of citizen. A recent example, and a small example of this is a colleague of mine who is involved in a dispute with a local government. In particular, the Chief of Police has decided to retaliate against this citizen for a procedural finding that was part of this citizen’s job to execute. The department performed a background check on this individual and found that the citizen’s driver’s license had expired a month before then proceeded prompt the citizen to leave the local jurisdiction. When the citizen complied with the police order to depart, the citizen was detained and ticketed for an expired driver’s license. This citizen is an upstanding member of the community who pays taxes, has a family, works hard, is industrious, and appears to be the target of a smear campaign that includes harassment from the local police department. This is a slippery slope, if it’s happening to this citizen, it can (and perhaps will) happen to you. Wouldn’t you like to have Due Process available when it affects you or someone you care about? This isn’t about druggies and terrorists, this is about you.

Inverse Golden Rule – If you were raised in America, and if you were raised in a Christian home, you may have learned about the so-called Golden Rule. It says “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” A very good rule to live by, no doubt. But I prefer a slight variation on that theme as a core value: Do not do to others what you would not like done to you. You can say, it’s simply reversing the Golden Rule and your right, that’s why it’s the inverse Golden Rule. But the difference is important, it forces you to consider your actions in a fail-safe way where one may question “If someone did this to me, how would I respond and would I respect it?” If the answer is no, then don’t do it. It’s a tool to help in making decisions regarding Personal Accountability.

But more than that, collectively, as our will is expressed through our representative government, it’s a national behavior. For instance, would we, as a nation, accept Canada and Mexico banding together to liberate us from the criminal Bush Regime and then working to liberate us over the course of nearly 5 years while creating a safe “green zone” around Washington DC? Ridiculous you say, we would never allow such a thing. But you could certainly understand it when the Texas Freedom Fighters resisted the Coalition and you would certainly understand when Californians indicate we didn’t like the way this thing was going anyway, we’ll take advantage of this moment to create the distinct and great country of California. When we consider our personal and collective actions in this way using the Inverse Golden Rule, we’re far less likely to make catastrophically bad decisions in our behavior toward others.

Switching gears back to the meta-topic of Core Values, I don’t have all the answers. No single person does. But I believe if we were to agree on a set of Core Values like these (and certainly there are others that could be added) we then as a nation could behave in a more consistent, positive, and productive manner and that perhaps, just perhaps, other nations might respond to our rational and good neighbor behavior in a more positive light. One final thing, not everyone is rational and not everyone is capable of good behavior, that’s why we must be willing to act personally, locally, nationally, and internationally when all other courses of action fail, but only as a last resort. Unfortunately, there are rulers like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc and the world does need our leadership and protection in those instances. But it is incumbent upon us to separate those instances from other, lesser threats and to respond appropriately and consistently with our Core Values.

In a future entry, I’ll specifically address what I’d like to understand from 2008 candidates on Iraq.