Right, wrong…and equivalency

Recently, a Washington commentator on one of those “cry talk shows” suggested George Bush was not morally superior to Bill Clinton because Mr. Bush chose to serve in World War Il and Mr. Clinton chose not to serve in the Vietnam War.

And now, some so-called “experts” have sharply criticized George Bush for wondering about Mr. Clinton’s conduct during his student days at Oxford, including organizing anti-American protests and going to Moscow at a time when the Soviets were supplying arms to the North Vietnamese.

Of course, other Americans visited the Soviet Union during those tense dates of the Cold War. But not all of them stepped out of line for military service and, thus, forced some other young men to go fight for their country. And if they did, they’re not running for president of the United States.

Dan Quayle hit the nail on the head Tuesday evening when he asked the American people if they can trust Mr. Clinton. Can a man who would so cavalierly play with the truth about his past be trusted with the future with the rest of us? No one is suggesting Bill Clinton is a pathological liar, but his problem is the truth is just another option.

Today in our popular culture, the phrase, “moral equivalency” has come into vogue. The concept is mostly offered and supported by people who, in fact, either don’t have a moral compass nor do they believe our society should. But, as one news commentator once asked, did Moses come down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Suggestions? In fact, our Constitution and our laws both civil and moral are designed to protect freedom while also limiting certain behaviors.

But if nothing is wrong, if nothing is morally inferior, then why does our society promote achievement and public service? Surely Mother Theresa, because of her lifetime of commitment to the poor of Calcutta, is morally superior to Sister Souljah whose “music,” produced for profit, unnecessarily inflames racial tensions. Surely Marva Collins, who has done so much educating the inner city youth of Chicago has a greater claim on moral superiority than Ivan Boesky.

In fact, a unique quality of America is the historical belief that public-spiritedness and dedication to one’s country and community are not only admirable attributes, but desirable as well. It’s no accident that nuns, police officers, firefighters, and soldiers and sailors, are held in high regard by our society.

The outstanding success of the Boy Scouts of America and other youth organizations is due in no small part to the fact that they teach behavioral absolutes and that morality is not mutable. Parents want what they teach at home reinforced by other adults and institutions. It may be fashionable to allow homosexuals to be Boy Scout leaders, but most parents don’t want their sons used in a behavioral experiment.

Despite the fact that government, at all levels, has stepped in and created all sorts of social programs that have directly undermined many forms of private charity and volunteerism, we still instill in our children in our homes, schools and churches that we are not simply unto ourselves, but in fact, are part of a society where our contributions are helpful to the greater good.

Moral equivalency suggests that slothful living, or robbery or promiscuity or noneffort are neither better nor worse than effort, achievement, responsibility, upright civil behavior or just plain good citizenship. If this is so, why bother educating our children? Why bother trying to help the truly less fortunate to help themselves. Why do we “keep score” in all aspects of our lives and not just sports?

Despite what we are told by certain elements of the news media, the entertainment community and the educational establishment, the American people in fact believe there is a distinction and a difference between right and wrong.

To suggest that someone who avoided the Vietnam War while contriving to protect his “political viability” is the moral equivalent of someone who went off to fight in the noble effort to stop communist aggression in Southeast Asia or the totalitarian aggression of the Empire of Japan is simply nonsense. There is no Cabinet-level Department of Draft Dodging.

During the Houston Convention, Ronald Reagan said we are all equal in the eyes of God but that, more importantly, we must be equal in the eyes of each other. With apologies to our former president, I would qualify this.

Most people simply don’t believe that a murderer is as equal in the eyes of God as a priest. They certainly aren’t in our system of justice. Nor should they be.

Is George Bush superior in the eyes of God to Bill Clinton because Mr. Bush chose to risk his life by answering the call of his country? Maybe not. But in the eyes of the citizens of our country, those who sacrifice and volunteer or risk their lives for a larger cause are arguably better citizens and better people.

Craig P. Shirley has worked in government and on campaigns at the gubernatorial, congressional and presidential levels. He heads Craig Shirley & Associates Inc. an Alexandria public relations firm.


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