Presidential Election 2012: How Much Does Virtue Matter?

OPINION

 
on December 14 2011 7:07 PM
Republican presidential candidates (L-R) former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX)
Republican presidential candidates (L-R) former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) Reuters

Ron Paul is the most virtuous candidate in the 2012 presidential race. This fact is not lost on the American public; a recent poll of Republicans and independents selected Paul as the most “principled” candidate.

Newt Gingrich was fifth even though he finished first for the overall poll (among Republican candidates).

This discrepancy begs the following question: how much does virtue matter for heads of state?

President John Adams argued that “public Virtue cannot exist without private, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.”

President George Washington said “it is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”

Indeed, most of the U.S. Founding Fathers deemed virtue to be extremely important not only for politicians but even for common citizens.

However, history is also littered with examples of effective heads of state who were not entirely virtuous in their private lives. 

For example, Thomas Jefferson, one of the greatest U.S. presidents of all time, likely (evidenced by DNA studies) had sexual relations with one of his female slaves (who he was obviously not married to) and fathered children with her.

Historically, many great public servants like Jefferson struggled with virtues like chastity, temperance, and patience (i.e. the ability to not lose one’s temper).

However, three vices routinely turn heads of state into villains who betray the interest and welfare of their people and country. These vices are cowardice, greed and vanity.

Cowardice and greed make heads of state serve something else – domestic benefactors, foreign backers, money – other than their people and country.

For example, Warren G. Harding, considered by many experts to be the worst U.S. president in history, was a greedy coward who appointed his benefactors to powerful positions and condoned their corruption.

Greed and cowardice-driven corruption, in fact, arguably remains the most severe problem that plagues governments in third world countries today.

Vanity places heads of state’s personal egos ahead of the interest of their people and country.

Many forget that Muammar Gaddafi, Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro were bold, extraordinarily talented revolutionaries who actually did great things for their countries and peoples in the beginning.

However, they – unlike the more humble George Washington and Rome’s Cincinnatus – chose to vainly (and violently) cling on to their power long after they lost the consent of the governed. By doing so, they arguably ended up doing more harm to their countries and peoples than their initial good.

In the U.S., the lack of virtue in the government has been acutely noted over the past few years by both the Right and the Left.

On the Left, Occupy Wall Street protesters have filled New York’s Financial District with chants of “banks got bailed out, we got sold out.” On the Right, the Tea party movement was fueled by reactions against the bank bailouts of 2008.

Wall Street and the 2008 financial crisis, however, are only the tip of the iceberg; the root problem is the influence of money in politics.

MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan described the situation as the following:

“There’s a refusal on both the Democratic and the Republican side of the aisle to acknowledge the mathematical problem, which is that the United States of America is being extracted. It’s being extracted through banking, it’s being extracted through trade, and it’s being extracted through taxation, and there’s not a single politician that has stepped forward.”

When asked what a U.S. president should do to fix the problem, he said:

“I would like him to go to the people of the United States of America and say, ‘People of the United States of America, your Congress is bought, your Congress is incapable of making legislation on healthcare, banking, trade, or taxes because if they do it, they will lose their political funding and they won’t do it. But I’m the President of the United States, and I won’t have a country that is run by a bought Congress. So I’m not going to work with a bought Congress…Until we get rid of the bought Congress…get the money out of politics, and until a President says that’s the problem and says he’s going to fix it, there is no policy that I can possibly see no matter how brilliant your idea may be…that idea will not happen as long as there’s a capacity to basically fire a politician who disagrees with me by taking funding away from him.”

Back in 2008, Barack Obama already understood these problems. He even campaigned on promises of fixing them.

However, when he took the office of the presidency, he was too cowardly and vain to stand up for the American people, confront the establishment and risk losing its support for his 2012 re-election bid.

Current GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich – his moral failures from his marriages aside – personifies Washington’s insiderism and legalized corruption. Even while he was campaigning to become the U.S. president in 2011, he spared time to promote his book.  

GOP candidate Mitt Romney, who consistently polls first or second among Republican caucusgoers in 2011, is largely untouched by serious, overt scandals. However, behind his squeaky-clean image lies a ball of naked ambition.

Romney wants to be President. Badly. 

He has been planning and plotting at it for years. He plays by the establishment’s rules, follows their paved road and pays their dues.

He has been widely accused of flip-flopping and saying whatever he thinks will get him elected.

Romney is the résumé candidate that is perfect on paper. The voters, however, just do not trust him. That is why he lost his bid in 2008 and why Republican caucusgoers in 2011 keep looking for the “flavor of the month” anti-Romney candidate. 

Politician Barney Frank made the following remark on Romney’s character:

“The real Romney is clearly an extraordinarily ambitious man with no perceivable political principle whatsoever.  He is the most intellectually dishonest human being in the history of politics.”

The only top-tier candidate in the 2012 presidential race with real virtue is Ron Paul.

Paul has rarely shifted his positions in his long political career and is ideologically consistent on unpopular (among Washington politicians) positions. For example, in accordance with his non-interventionist belief, he also thinks Israel has the right to attack Iran without U.S. approval

More importantly, Paul backs up his beliefs with personal actions. 

Consistent with his small government beliefs, Paul at one point in his career as a doctor refused to participate in Medicaid and Medicare. For patients who cannot pay with money, Paul reportedly accepted their best efforts. One family reportedly paid him in fresh-caught shrimp.

While he served in the House of Representatives, he “eschewed most ‘pork barrel’ projects for his district” and refused to enroll in the House pension program. He also encouraged his children to not apply for government-backed student loans.

Many people realize Paul’s undeniable virtue. However, they are turned off by one of his many “extreme” policies.

Paul’s stance is indeed dramatically different from the U.S. status quo. (The current status quo, though, is dramatically different from what the U.S. was 100 years ago, which more resembles Paul’s stances).

However, voters should keep an open mind about “extreme” political stances when the incumbent government is not virtuous.

For example, despite the fact that many experts profess an undying allegiance to one economic system over others, the reality is that there are multiple ways to achieve prosperity.

The economies of Hong Kong (small government) and Switzerland (big government), which are vastly different, have both achieved prosperity for their people.

What these two economies do have in common, however, is that their governments are guided by principles and goodwill towards their people. In other words, they were relatively virtuous.

Contrastingly, governments that are guided by vanity (i.e. dictators) and greed/cowardice (i.e. puppet regimes) almost universally fail to achieve prosperity. These governments’ professed economic beliefs are of secondary importance and should be relegated as political theater to some degree.

Moldova, for example, is supposedly a republic, has universal suffrage and has a free market economy. While this looks good on paper, the country is one of the poorest in the world.

“Communist” China, meanwhile, is booming economically. Its GDP per capita, while still low by Western standards, is more than three times higher than Moldova’s.

I believe in democracy and market capitalism. But I would much rather live in “Communist” China than “democratic” Moldova.

The truth people often do not realize is that the virtues of a government (especially when it is lacking) are more important than its professed beliefs in political and economic systems.

In the U.S., the problem is that Congress is a cesspool of legalized corruption run by lobbyist money, as Ratigan suggested.

Therefore, as long as this legalized form of corruption remains in place, the contest between the Democrats and Republicans is mere political theater to some degree.

Paul is the only presidential candidate that actually has virtue and dares to challenge this corrupt Congress.

Unlike other top tier presidential candidates, Paul is not funded by and hostage to big money.

Instead, he is motivated by his unshakable belief in individual liberty, free markets and non-interventionism, which all tie back to his deep reverence for the U.S. Constitution.

Moreover, his political success is based on his undying adherence to his principles.

“He’s not the most charismatic man, by any stretch. He’s not got the greatest delivery by any stretch. But the words he says lights a fire in my soul. I’m ready to run through a brick wall for him,” said one of his supporters, according to The Associated Press.

This supporter’s sentiment is representative of how most of his core supporters feel.

Paul is a man of his principles and an upholder of the U.S. Constitution. Although I do not agree with all of his positions, I would rather have a country run by Paul rather than a puppet state run by lobbyist money.

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