On Cuss Words, Character and Confucius

by Piero Tozzi

One tires of the tawdriness of it all.  The obsessions of Lena Dunham and Sandra Fluke, the profanity-laced tirades of Samuel L. Jackson and the alleged nonagenarian of Michael Moore’s devising.  Indeed, the vulgarisms spouted by the current occupant of the Oval Office himself.

I have had to chastise my son not to use that kind of language in the house – “I don’t care if the President of the United States says it.”  This man has not made parenting any easier – a recurring concern of mine.

Confucianists in ancient China contended that the well-being of the polity was closely linked to the moral integrity of the Emperor and, radiating outward and downward from him, of those through whom he exercised authority.  This certainly speaks at least to a metaphorical truth.

I rubbed my chin over this thought recently while I was reading my good friend Tim Goeglein’s memoirs, The Man in the Middle, concerning his time in the Bush 43 White House.  Tim – “a White House insider who was on the outer ring, and on occasion, a person who was honored to pray with the president” – paints a portrait of George W. Bush as of a man of deep integrity and genuine faith who conscientiously wrestled with life-and-death moral issues that invariably must confront every President, from decisions to go to war to funding of stem cell research.

Of the latter, Tim devotes a chapter to President Bush’s limiting of federal research funding to experimentation on existing embryonic stem cell lines and his refusal to support new embryo destructive research, reasoning pragmatically that the life-and-death decision had already been made with regard to existing lines.

Ethicists would point out that this decision would constitute cooperation with moral evil, albeit a remote, material cooperation, as opposed to (always immoral) formal cooperation with evil.  Yet it was a decision that was made with serious deliberation, following months of consultation with bioethicists such as Leon Kass, who headed up President Bush’s Council on Bioethics – a forum dismantled by President Obama, who also quickly overturned his predecessor’s ethically-nuanced policy.  (Of course the scientific issue has now become moot, as morally-licit use of adult stem cells has made great breakthroughs while morally-problematic experimentation on embryonic stem cells turned out to be a research dead-end.)

How would a President Romney approach such ethical issues?   There are past positions of his which indicate a shallowness of moral thought or political calculation, such as his support for the abortion status quo and Planned Parenthood while Governor of Massachusetts.  Yet as Governor, he also had a chance to explore the complex ethical issues regarding stem cells, vetoing a bill to fund embryo-destructive research in the Commonwealth. The experience seems to have impacted his evolution on issues concerning human dignity and life at its earliest stages. This stands in stark contrast with President Obama, with his wholehearted embrace of the anti-Culture of Death and his apparent inability to even understand why people may have conscientious objections to paying for abortion and contraception.

So where does that leave these United States of America at this late hour?

At the end of the day, my friend Tim is an optimist.  While recognizing that some conservatives see American decline as inevitable, due to “materialism and extravagant wealth; moral and social decay; a loss of strong marriages and families; a culture that is decadent; the surrender of elites; a collapse of confident exceptionalism; but above all a collapse of faith,” Tim assures us that an “American renaissance is possible, even likely.”

I don’t know… Have we reached a tipping point? Or could a President Romney lead us out of the moral morass the country finds itself in, not to mention the economic?

Restoring dignity to the Office of President is not something to be taken lightly – character matters, and the President should be a role model.  Integrity radiates from the top: as Confucius noted, the virtuous ruler is like the pole star, setting the standard for those around him. When those in high office act virtuously, people are inspired to virtue.  And when that happens, young lads stop cussin’ around the house… Actually Confucius did not say that last bit, but of this much I am confident: there will be no more upending the ottoman in an effort to reach the remote in order to hit the mute button and prevent an assault on tender ears when a President Romney or his minions speak.

*****

As of this posting, the polls have been open for several hours.  By tonight, we should know who will be president for the next four years, and whether America’s future is one of definite decline or possible, even probable, rebirth (pace Tim).

Oremus.

 

Piero A. Tozzi is Senior Legal Counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, where he practices international human rights law.  His areas of responsibility include Latin America, the Caribbean and the United Nations.  He also serves as Senior Fellow with the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute.

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