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April 12, 2012

What’s Good About Lying in Elections…

Patricia A. Kelly

“Never speak ill of your fellow Republican,” the eleventh commandment made famous by President Ronald Reagan, has been violated more egregiously than usual during the recent Maryland primary election.


In the Sixth Congressional District, Del. Kathy Afzali (Frederick 4-A) often spoke of her opponent, State Sen. David Brinkley (Frederick-Carroll), her mentor and ally in her early days in politics, as a person with a record of poor treatment of women. She filed for Congress on the last day possible, without a word to her soon-to-be former mentor.


In addition, when a scurrilous email about Senator Brinkley made the rounds, she added her list of email recipients to those who received it, reportedly in the interest of keeping her supporters in the know. She only happened to mention that the information in the email would hurt him in the general election, so all should vote for her.


The next day, after multiple criticisms and blockings of her communications, she apologized.


She says she ran because of her concerns about her daughters’ future. After seeing the example she set, I’m beginning to worry about them, too.


Whoever sent the first email, whether Congressman Roscoe Bartlett’s campaign or Alex Mooney, Maryland Republican Party chairman, no one has yet apologized, or even admitted culpability.


One must hope it was not Congressman Bartlett. That would leave us with a candidate with clear ethical issues. His calling Senator Brinkley a Republican in name only is bad enough.


One must hope it was not Alex Mooney, either, as that would leave us with a compromised state party chairman.


The big question is: “Do we care?”


Some wonder where to draw the line. Can a person campaign effectively and avoid distorting the truth? Where does honor lie? Does it even have a place in the political game? Should it?


Candidates must, of course, emphasize the differences between themselves and their opponents. That includes exposing the truth about their behavior, their votes, their prior promises and actions, their mistakes. The public actually does deserve to know who they’re electing, and personal issues can be relevant.


It’s more than appropriate to hold opponents accountable for their mistakes and failures, but only with demonstrable facts, not distortions or labeling.


Now, the most notable consideration of ethical behavior in the seeking of public office relates to campaign finance. It’s not enough.


The public deserves the truth. The public should be allowed the truth about candidates as well as public officials.


That doesn’t include distorted information or that obtained by illegal invasions of privacy.


The Colson Center of Christian Worldview has recently offered a six part series on ethics, that is, on doing the right thing. Their assertion is that it is essential to rebuild consensus on what is right, or acceptable in society, and to step away from our acceptance of moral relativism as our code of behavior.


Moral relativism has, for many, replaced belief in right and wrong in our society. It implies that right and wrong change, based on circumstances.


For example: it’s okay for me to lie if I really have a good reason. Maybe I have a criminal record, so I lie on my employment application. After all, I really want and need the job. Maybe I really want to be elected and think I would be a good candidate, so, just this once, I’ll lie about my opponent, or pass on illegally obtained information. Maybe I’ll abort my baby because I don’t want to be embarrassed by a pregnancy, or go to the trouble of finding adoptive parents for a full-term baby. Maybe I’ll steal that really cool watch, just this once, because I deserve good things and should be able to have them.


Along with disgust at some of the uglier side of unethical behavior, acceptance of it as the norm is often heard. But the consequences are too great to accept it, whether on Wall Street, or in the arena of politics.


Imagine living in a world where you can never tell what is true. Oh, never mind. You don’t have to imagine it.


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