Rush Limbaugh May Teach Conservatives A
Posted October 5, 2003 thepeoplesvoice.org
reaction to the drug problem - and drug felonies - recently alleged
against Rush Limbaugh highlight sharply the differences between
conservative morality and liberal/progressive morality.
mistakenly proclaim themselves the sole holders of morality.
Their error comes
when they define this word first and foremost in terms of personal
behavior: What goes on in people's bedrooms, what drugs others may be
taking in their own living rooms, whether a woman should be allowed to
prevent or terminate a pregnancy. In their fervor for these issues, many
conservatives think they are the only ones concerned about morality in an
otherwise decadent society.
are equally passionate about morality.
morality is key in the conservative world-view, public morality is the
overarching concern of liberals. Some are so passionate about this
morality that they're led to acts of civil disobedience.
summarized in Jesus' description in Matthew 25 of who will (and who won't)
get into heaven, liberal morality asks: "Are the hungry fed? Does
everybody have the housing, clothing, and health-care they need? Are those
in prison treated humanely? Are we caring for the "strangers" -
the less fortunate or less competent among us - in the same way we'd want
to be cared for if we fell on hard times?"
Many liberals would
say that what people do in the private lives is their own business, and
that if we hold to the ancient standard that only those among us without
sin may cast stones at those with personal failings, we'll have a more
humane and decent society.
Just as liberals
hold public morality as a high positive virtue, public immorality equally
disgusts them: Movie stars using their power and position to force
themselves sexually in a non-consensual way on others. Politicians using
their positions to award their buddies taxpayer money in grants,
contracts, and tax breaks. Bureaucrats, expecting a job with industry when
they leave regulatory agencies, allowing those industries to make our air,
water, or food more toxic.
Most liberals don't
care how stoned Rush wants to get in the privacy of his own home (private
morality), so long as he doesn't try to drive while high (public
morality). Similarly, they don't have a problem with Bill Clinton's
consensual extramarital sex (private morality), but are horrified that
he'd sign GATT and NAFTA without human rights, environmental, or labor
standards (public morality). Bill Bennett is welcome to gamble as much as
he wants (private morality), but when he supports right wing causes that
harm the environment or oppress women in America or people in the Third
World (public morality) he has become toxic.
interesting consistency to these differing definitions of morality.
Conservatives like Falwell probably are free of personal sins like
philandering or pot smoking, and so feel righteous in condemning others
who do. And because Falwell's definition of morality is limited to private
behavior, he's comfortable hobnobbing with millionaires who made their
money harming the lives of others or making the world more toxic. (Just so
long as they don't sleep with somebody of the same sex!)
On the other hand,
because liberals like Martin Sheen define morality by how well we all are
taking care of us, and he's most likely never worked to increase the
amount of toxic waste in the air, he's willing to both overlook the
personal foibles of others and to put his life and freedom on the line for
the public morality he so passionately cares about.
Which brings us back
to Rush. Some believe that these private/public morality differences that
form the demarcation line between conservatives and liberals are
instinctual, an early imprint, or genetic, the same as a person being an
introvert or extravert. Others believe they're the result of experience,
and people can learn from their experience and grow up enough to become a
liberal. Psychologists tell us that nobody knows for sure what causes a
person to become a liberal or a conservative (although there are some
interesting, and frightening, studies about the latter - but let's leave
that for a future discussion.)
It's going to be
interesting to watch. Will Rush's apparent drug problem cause
conservatives to grow in wisdom, reconsider the destructive nature of
their so-called "war on drugs," and begin to treat drug
addiction as a medical - instead of a legal - problem like so many other
liberal nations have done? Might they even discover the importance of
rebuilding the pillars of public morality on which this nation was founded
- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
Some say it's
impossible. As a good liberal, however, I'm willing to cut Rush some slack
and hope for his and his followers' enlightenment. Let's hope and pray
that if he gets out of this okay, he'll work to help release the millions
of others today in prison for personal poor choices about drugs.
Thom Hartmann (thom at thomhartmann.com)
is the award-winning, best-selling author of over a dozen books, and the
host of a syndicated daily talk show that runs opposite Rush Limbaugh in
cities from coast to coast. www.thomhartmann.com
This article is copyright by Thom Hartmann, but permission is granted for
reprint in print, email, blog, or web media so long as this credit is
attached and the title is unchanged.