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Relativism Makes Everything Personal

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Yesterday I wrote about moral relativism and its affect on everything from petty childhood antics to the very structure of our society.  Today a piece by Colbert I. King appeared in the Washington Post that illustrates another problem with moral relativism.  The article is about the much debated letter, authored by Tom Cotton and signed by numerous other Senators, sent to Iranian leadership and Netanyahu’s recent address to Congress.

But before I get to the philosophical aspects of the piece, a couple of other points are in order.  Firstly, King says the following:

Later, on Oct. 22, 1962, Kennedy spoke to the nation about the Cuban missile crisis, which had the potential to spark a nuclear war. Over 13 days, Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev worked out a deal in which the Soviets would dismantle their missile sites in Cuba in exchange for a pledge that the United States would not invade Cuba.

Now imagine that, in the midst of those negotiations, a band of Republican senators had sent an open letter to Khrushchev informing him that Kennedy lacked the authority to deliver on any negotiated deal. That would have been preposterous.

Whoa! Back up the truck here.  There are two important factual matters that make this analogy inoperative.  For one, the decision to invade a country like Cuba is a presidential decision, not a congressional one – that’s the constitution.  In the deal Kennedy struck he did not give up anything that was not already in the control of the executive branch.  Secondly, while Kennedy did keep tight rein on the flow of information during the crisis, he did not state during the course of negotiations that he was not gong to seek congressional approval after the deal was done – something Obama has done.  (There was enough congressional disagreement with Kennedy’s handling of the crisis that such an announcement might very well have resulted in all sorts of letters and invitations.)

King then moves on to quote the Dred Scott decision and concludes his piece, “Chief Justice Taney, I suspect, would approve.”  There is not one shred of evidence offered in the piece that race plays a role in congressional objections to Obama’s policy.  Nor is there any evidence I am aware of in the record anywhere that race has anything to do with any of this.  But then this starts to strike at the philosophical heart of this issue.

King’s essential argument is that congress is disrespectful of the president.  Everybody knows you respect the office regardless of its occupant.  But this president has repeatedly stepped outside the boundaries of his office.  When he has done so, the power he attempts to exercise is personal, not constitutional.  Because such exercise of power is not constitutional, it does not deserve the respect accorded the office.  It is the job of congress and the courts to push him back inside the constitutional boundaries established on the office.  By definition that is going to get personal.

It is moral relativism that both drives the president to step outside the constitutional boundaries of his office, and makes for public arguments in which the personal attempts to trump the constitutional.  I said in yesterday’s post, “Hillary’s argument,” was “‘I felt like I was doing the right thing, so why bother me with your rule based trivialities.'”  That is very much the stance of the Obama presidency and it stands very much on moral relativism.

When personal feelings trump the rules everything becomes personal, and thus everything becomes about race, gender, or whatever other “identity factor” it is you choose to affiliate yourself with.  Seemingly, this puts those of us that are not moral relativists in a “no win” situation.  Any disagreement is, according to our opposition, ad hominem, and we lose simply because we are being mean, or racist, or sexist, or whateverist. 

But I believe that most people in the nation will eventually see through the artifice of these public arguments.  On the personal level moral relativism is likely here to stay.  (It’s been here on that level through all of history.)  But trying to run the country on moral relativism creates a clear distinction between a constitutional democracy that works and a loose affiliation of tribes that will eventually blow itself up.  We may end up proceeding farther into tribal affiliation territory than I would hope, but what we have been is too great to abandon so easily.

Provided we have done our work and know that we stand on solid constitutional and/or moral grounds, we cannot allow ourselves to be swayed by accusations of meanness, or racism or anything else that comes our way.  The future of the nation depends on it.


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