THE BLOG
03/05/2012 05:32 pm ET | Updated May 05, 2012

Dangerous Moral Cynicism Rears Its Head on Both Sides of the Aisle

While much of our contemporary public discourse pedantically hovers around right vs. wrong, it is overshadowed by moral cynicism. Moral cynicism is defined by the refusal to entertain well-reasoned moral arguments or actions.

The moral cynic is one who provides an imperfect tool that falsely offers a perfect outcome, possessing no room for doubt or ambiguity. Its defining characteristics are simplicity, clarity and conviction.

Because the Republican Party's presidential primary has been largely on public display, their moral cynicism is easier to identify. It is an overt display of pandering and demagoguery.

The public perception, which is not always accurate, is one of a current Republican Party that rests on a foundation of absolutes. Absolute positions on taxes, the size of government and certain social issues are the ideological litmus test that the Republican presidential candidates must pass.

To meet this impossible task, the candidates have no other choice but to pander. Honesty is a fleeting bipartisan virtue during the campaign season.

Both sides of the political aisle, through talk radio, cable news shows, columnists and the blogosphere have willingly outsourced critical thinking and self reflection, opting instead for the false comfort of having their ideas reinforced.

Vaunted claims of American exceptionalism while proposing simplistic solutions, designed more for winning elections than governing, will only worsen the problems.

Democratic moral cynicism takes on a different tone because their party controls the White House. Democrats gleefully watch the Republicans' political kerfuffle, focused only on the prospects of President Barack Obama's re-election. Attention to winning an election more than eight months away, it could be argued, is in itself an example of moral cynicism.

The desire to win is understandable, but at what cost? Does the cost include granting the incumbent president a pass for actions that would be unacceptable if done by his predecessor?

Every president since George H.W. Bush has used the military abroad to demonstrate American power while obscuring the increasingly intractable problems at home.

The extent to which this morally cynical practice is accepted depends greatly on who's in the White House.

Political absolutes, which have marred the Republican presidential primary, demand that one have no appreciation for compromise. It is the moral cynic who offers the absolute position as something viable.

It is rather arrogant and contradictory to run for Congress, proclaiming one's hatred for the institution that is Washington, D.C., vowing not to compromise, while promising to change the political tone.

Government is an amoral institution, guided more by what is possible than by absolute moral precepts.

From 1961 to 1963, Martin Luther King's moral pleas on civil rights were met with President John F. Kennedy's "but" of amoral political pragmatism as to why he couldn't go as far as King wanted.

By June 11, 1963, as Alabama Gov. George Wallace stood symbolically to block integration at the University of Alabama, Kennedy found his moral compass. That evening he elevated civil rights to a moral issue for the nation that was "as old as the Scriptures."

History offers numerous examples of moral episodes, but they do not diminish the overall amoral aspect necessary to govern.

Perhaps it is the moral cynicism of the electorate that creates the moral cynicism of our elected officials. So certain of the position we hold, can we only see the imperfections of those we oppose?

We concoct straw men and women, burdening them with our worst stereotypes to justify our contempt for those who hold different positions.

Since 9/11, America has been a nation in the throes of anxiety -- of the personal-safety and economic variety. Anxieties can lead us is different directions, making us more reactionary.

As a result, we become prime candidates for the moral cynicism of our choosing.