October 01
Male, Jewish, in my extremely early sixties, married with kids (well, at this point I guess that should be "kid"). Thanks to Lezlie for avatar artwork - sort of a translation of my screen name. "Salaam" is peace in Arabic, hence the peace sign. (No, my name doesn't mean "hunk of meat" and yes, the pun is intentional.)


Koshersalaami's Links
MAY 10, 2012 8:29AM

Dirty Hands

Rate: 20 Flag

It's extremely difficult to keep your hands clean if you're politically involved, damned near impossible if you hold office. The reason is the existence of conflicting responsibilities.

If you hold office, assuming you are ethical, there are two things you want/need to do:

1. Vote your conscience

2. Help people

Let's say you're elected to Congress. You don't want to be responsible for Business As Usual. You want to take care of your constituents, keep your commitments and be proud of every vote you cast.

You speak to a fellow Congressman who makes you an offer: You scratch his back, he'll scratch yours. You want support on a gay rights bill, in part because one of your children is gay, and this Congressman wants support on a bill to ease environmental standards on a company in his district. You're a pretty ardent envirnomentalist and you were supported during your last campaign by environmental organizations, but you're really, really anxious to see this gay rights bill passed.

If you follow this guy, the gay rights bill passes; if you don't, it probably doesn't. The environmental modification for his district will probably pass either way though, if it doesn't and you voted against it, you've made a powerful enemy.

If you back this guy, you have to explain to environmental organizations in your district why you voted against them, in spite of their campaign support and, even worse, in spite of your convictions. You end up looking like a typical politician.

If you don't back this guy, you have to explain to your kid why the gay rights bill didn't pass, and you may have to explain the same thing to gay rights organizations that supported your campaign. You will end up preserving an aspect of your personal reputation but you will not accomplish anything in terms of policy. You will have been helped in a sense by maintaining a reputation for issue integrity, but you will not have helped anyone else.

What do you do?

Which decision is right? Which decision is moral? The dirtier decision is the one that helps people and helps you accomplish more later because you generate polical capital,  you now have a reputation on the Hill as someone you can work with, and you have the favorable attention of someone important. The higher you rise, in terms of things like committee assignments, the more people you can help.

The cleaner decision enhances your reputation for integrity. To what extent is that critical and to what extent is it self-indulgent? Why are you here? I hope it's not to enhance your reputation.

A lot of you would ask more questions; I know I would. How bad environmental damage are we talking here? Do I have the option of abstaining on a vote and, if so, how much would abstaining help me politically, either with my constituents or with my powerful colleague?

So much weaseling, right at the beginning of your Congressional career, and yet is the weaseling more moral than self-indulgence is because weaseling produces, from a legistlative standpoint, a better result for your constituents, along with the potential for more results down the road? The argument can be made both ways.

If you opt to vote your conscience issue by issue, you presumably do so to keep your hands clean. However, you failed to help your constituents when you could have, easily, so are they really clean? That's debateable.

Is the Slippery Slope a factor? If you compromise once, are you obligated to compromise the same way all the time? Will your priority become your re-election more than your constituents' interest on the grounds that you have to stay on the Hill to do them any good? I've read Hentry Adams. It happens. You could end up as a full-time weasel who doesn't really help people, except by accident.

I'm not telling you which way to act. I'm not telling you which way I'd act. I'm just telling you that this is a very typical political dilemma. You can't navigate the territory while keeping your hands clean if you want to do the job effectively that you were sent to do. You have to figure out how to walk a tightrope, how to decide when compromise is too much to stomach and when it isn't.

You're not in Congress. You're a voter. An election is coming, and you have an enormous advantage over Congressmen:

You vote with a secret ballot.

You can steer a result without it affecting your reputation and without showing visible support to anyone you view as reprehensible. You may be able to have your cake and eat it. You may, for example, be thoroughly pissed at the President and, as a result, you don't want to show him support, but you understand the difference between a Supreme Court nominee put forward by Obama or Romney, so you can minimize the damage without visible political consequences. Or you can conclude that the compromise is too awful to stomach and that the Supreme Court consequences are worth withholding support over.

The point is that all your choices have consequences and that you bear responsibility for those consequences.  If you're involved in politics, you're intrinsically playing in dirt, so don't expect clean hands. You won't get them.

Just choose your dirt wisely.

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If you are a representative then you are obligated to vote for the people you represent. Once you assume public office your personnel ambitions are no longer relevant. This is supposedly a representative government. We have no kings and queens nor dukes and earls. Every man or woman that holds public office does so only as a representative of their constituents. I am not saying that politicians should not compromise but what I am saying is that if they do that compromise better be representative of the intrests of the people that put them in that office. In short if you have dirty hands that is because you have been playing with fecal matter.
Very good post, Kosh. As you know I am a consequence girl. But I do think that sometimes we must draw a line in the sand. Jack Heart said it for me. Representatives are supposed to represent not pander. If each side givess a little and gets a little in order to get the be it. All business is give and take. The Hill people get heady with power. I've walked down those is awesome. Even lavs have preference and priority. Hopefully they all come with sinks.
Fecal matter is, in this case, another variety of dirt.

Of course obligated to vote for the people you represent, but which ones? This isn't mainly a question of personal gain vs. representation, it's a question about how to represent best.

I refuse to buy your preface that standing up for your moral and ethical beliefs is self indulgent and bad for you constituents. This seems to be an argument built upon a falsehood, dude. It's like asking when did you stop beating your wife.

IMO, the person was elected by his constituents BECAUSE of his beliefs. To "compromise" is to go AGAINST what you were elected to do. (which is EXACTLY what Obama has done on too many occassions).

I don't elect congress critters and Presidents because the waffle and waiver in their beliefs well, if it's expedient. I elect them based upon their word and their beliefs.
I really like this post. There's not much that is black and white and politics and governing certainly isn't. You put it in a perspective that's easy to understand and that will make me step back a little before I criticize.
Kosh, I can't agree with you more. rated
That's not my premise. My premise has to do with maximizing what you accomplish for your constituents. My point is that there can be a significant difference between how you vote and what you accomplish. Given that, there may be times when voting against what you think is best in a given specific situation because it allows you to accomplish more for your constituents. "For your constituents" is a given - there is nothing ethical about furthering your own ends at the expense of your constituents. That would constitute, unambiguously, slime.
You take all the fun out of self-righteousness.
And there is nothing MORE ethical than standing up for your beliefs, ESPECIALLY when those beliefs we're the basis of you being elected in the first place.

To me, if you can "compromise" away your ethical beliefs when it suits you, then you never really held them in the first place and were elected on politically expedient lies.

That IS the freakin problem with our government today. Too damn many people saying what ever it takes to get elected and never believing a word of it.

BTW, that's the difference between a patriot and a politician. I am sick to death of being lied to by politicians and think we need a bunch more patriots in DC that will actually stand up for what they believe in and won't "compromise" away the rights of the minority for the "future" benefits of a larger voting bloc.
Chicken Maaan (sorry if misspelled): If you need the fun put back in, catch up with the first few episodes of "Veep", which stars the great Julia Louis-Dreyfus of "Seinfeld". Apart from her huge ego and blundering aides, there is a Congressman Doyle character who clearly illustrates what Kosh was talking about. If it doesn't have you rolling on the floor I'll refund your money.
I have a clean conscience. Voting won't keep me from compromising my own principles. Most politicians are more concerned for their careers and their livelihoods than for their countrymen.
As usual, KS, you are a wise, wise man. I hope people read this carefully and remember.
This is, probably, out of context but the nature of voting is a yes or no. That is the system. Many important questions and solutions require something a bit different than simple approval and denial. Sometimes it's best just to walk away.
Thank you all.

This isn't a post with a hidden agenda of tellling you that Obama has been fine. He hasn't. If anything, he entered into heavy horse-trading without understanding that while he was giving stuff away he wasn't getting anything back. Yes, arguments about Obama is what triggered my thinking that this post might be a good idea but it isn't about him per se. More particularly, I did not write this post as a veiled Obama apologist. The portion of this post that really relates to him is the Supreme Court question: Even if he hasn't kept his word, has been worse than expected and has been politically inept, are you willing to accept the consequences of a Romney presidency? Your answer might be "yes;" I'm just making sure that the question is on your table.

In terms of the first part of the post, here's an example of what I mean:
Early in the Clinton administration, Hillary was put in charge of making a deal on health care, so she and a guy by the name of Ira Magaziner put together a health plan and brought it to Congress. Some of the guys in the GOP wanted to make some changes - at that point, Bob Dole was heavily involved in this process. She and Magaziner insisted it go through as is and, as a result, it didn't pass. The GOP then is not like the GOP now - particularly in the Senate, there were still a lot of sane Republicans. The refusal to compromise probably set health care back by about fifteen years.

As Ted Kennedy could have told you when he was alive, compromise is how you accomplish things. He accomplished a tremendous amount for this country. As the father of a (deceased) handicapped son, I am extremely aware of how much easier our lives were as a result of ADA, which was his baby. He was also known for having close across-the-aisle friendships, particularly including Orrin Hatch. And, by the way, once she got more experience, Hillary Clinton as a senator was highly respected by her GOP colleagues, including Newt Gingrich.

The distinction I'm making here is between compromise to accomplish something and compromise to get re-elected. I gave you an example in the post. What I'd like to know from you is how you would proceed if you were the new Congressman in question.
There is no way to govern with clean hands, not and please everyone. You can't please everyone to start with, so do you do 60% or 40%. You can only do what you can do and sleep at night. If you can't sleep, you need a new occupation!
Sometimes it is best to just walk away, as long as you take the consequences of walking away into account.

If you do walk away (and this is a generic "you" as opposed to Jan specifically), don't complain about what you did nothing to prevent. If both candidates are pretty equivalent, voting won't accomplish much anyway, in which case complaining is at least justified, but if they aren't and the result of an election is pretty awful, that's in part on you.

I remember too well that the Nader supporters in 2000 thought there was no substantive difference between Bush and Gore. Where we would have been in 2009 if that election had been decided the other way is something that it just makes me too sad to think about - it is frightening how much of a difference that election made.
Yes. You do what you can do and live with it. You're right - if you can't sleep, you're in the wrong job. Though.....

In one respect, I want to look at that closer. The job is mainly about responsibility. If you're in the job for other reasons and can sleep because you worry more about your own position than consequences to the 300 million plus people in your personal care, maybe that's not the best indicator.
what jack said....due what the people who sent you want, and DAMN the political consequences. wont see it happen, but what the hell...
There is more than one kind of political consequence. For re-election, sure. Let's go back to the initial question, though: Two issues on the table; in order to pass the one you support, you've got to vote for the one you don't support, which will probably pass without your vote. So, if you vote against your position on one of them, the one that's really important to you passes, so you end up with a good result on one and a bad result on the other. If you vote for your position on both, chances are you get a bad result on both. So, you do the effective thing and your constituents on one of them think you sold them out, even though your vote wouldn't have bought them anything. What do you do? Voting your conscience issue by issue results in your looking like you served your constituents more but you actually served them less.
guess i misunderstood, thought the dilemma started over the desire for a vote based on his personnal wants...shouldnt enter into the equation in my book...
Dirt? It's going to be a heck of a mudfest the next few months..
In the end even if you vote, your vote does not matter as the Electoral College decides. Do not even get me started..:)
My fault on that one. I assumed that the Congressman would have constituents who cared about gay rights in addition to his/her kid. I should have been clear on that.

Though that does bring in another question: If your constituents are bigoted, do you support their bigotry in addition to everything else you do for them, assuming that you didn't run for office on the promise of supporting bigotry?
Thanks, Linda, my answer was for Steel Breeze. I was typing when you commented.
Absolute purity gets you the Tea Party.

And this: Is the Slippery Slope a factor? If you compromise once, are you obligated to compromise the same way all the time? Will your priority become your re-election more than your constituents' interest on the grounds that you have to stay on the Hill to do them any good? is where real courage comes in to play, imo. Where you draw the line.
There was a time when a person elected to public office was considered a "public servant." That jibes with doing what the constituency sent them to D.C. to do. Little by little, though, the public servant has morphed into the "professional politician." The two descriptions are not the same thing at all. Representation only seems to matter during election cycles, which is the reason most everything said during said cycle turns out to be a lie.

You have carefully and accurately, I think, laid out the actual process a newly elected member of Congress encounters when s/he arrives in D.C. And today, because of it, the individual voter sometimes must cast a strategic vote instead of the vote that personal beliefs would dictate. We might not like it and it is probably not what the founding fathers had in mind, but here we are.

You have coaxed me out of hiding, damn you.

I disagree with Jack. In a republic, elected officials aren't elected to represent the views of their constituents but are, instead, elected to support the platform on which you ran. When we elect a politician to office, we're not buying a pig in a poke. On the contrary, we vote for the person who most closely reflects our positions on the issues under discussion. Senators and Congresspeople are elected to vote on the basis of THEIR beliefs, not the beliefs of their constituents.

Honest politicians vote on the basis of the opinions they espoused during the campaign for office. Dishonest politicians vote against the opinions they espoused when they ran for the offices they hold.

And, not to belabor the point, Senators and Congressmen are elected to represent ALL of the citizens from their respective states and districts.

But this is only true of virgins. Once politicians have served a term in office, they come embellished with a track record that enables their constituents to approve or disapprove of them by voting them back for another term or voting them out of office.

To answer KS's question directly, I am afraid that I am an absolutist. If elected (as unlikely as that may be) I would vote according to the platform I ran on in the belief that the people who voted for me elected me on the basis of the views I expressed during the campaign.

In the present political environment, the fly in the ointment is that the members of the electorate do not have equal access to their representatives. People and corporations with money have the ability to purchase access, which enables them to bespeak their personal agendas directly to the legislators who will enact or derail their favorite pieces of legislation. The rest of us don't enjoy that privilege.

The bottom line for me is very simple: when you are confronting a great evil, there's small comfort in knowing that you have contributed to the evil the process of attempting to do a little good.

When I play poker, I first establish a reputation for never bluffing, and that means I lose a lot of pots, at first. But, once that reputation has been established, it becomes very easy for me to claim the big pots because, once I have established an image of someone who doesn't bluff, I can then bluff with aplomb.

Obama, obviously, is a poker player. He's more of a scrabble guy.
Sorry, I meant that Obama is NOT a poker player or at least not a good one.
By whose Rules will you play? Are there any rules?
Is what you talk about a sportsmanlike endeavor, or a Free for All?
Is anything that a congressman does dishonorable, or is it honorable simply because he “helps” people ?

I find myself musing on my career as a wrestler. I didn't wrestle in high school, my high school didn't have a team. Our football team wrestled other schools football teams, as winter conditioning, but we had no formal league and no formal referees. I'd been practicing judo and other self defense arts since I 'd been 6, and no one was too clear about what sorts of pressure or choke holds were illegal in collegiate wrestling, so I was never disqualified for my “unintentional” use of such holds. I won all of my matches .

I made the OSU wrestling team my freshman year, not because I could wrestle, but because I could fight, and the coach saw some hope of teaching me to fight by the rules.

I spent my wrestling career at OSU being the practice dummy for a kid that went on to be Big ten champ in my weight class, and did so for 3 years. I got kind of tired of being out wrestled within the rules, but he was wrestling and I was “judo”ing. He'd come to OSU on a wrestling scholarship from Cleveland, and had had years of practice within the rules, which are specifically designed to keep anyone from getting hurt.

One day, he grew particularly contemptuous of me and called me a “Fish” ( a grave insult in wrestling )

We faced off again and I threw him over my hip and got him on the mat and choked him out. ( Both of which would have gotten me disqualified ) and I said, “Jim, are we wrestling or are we fighting, cause it makes a difference.”

So, are you going to congress to play by the rules or not? The Rules are the rule of Reason, Enlightenment, Liberty, Freedom and Self Government. These rules are pretty clearly laid out in the Constitution. As a representative of the people, you are not there as a governor, but as a referee.

I've lost the reference for this quote, but to me it sums up the expectations of a Liberal government. You are not there to either vote your conscience or Help people- ( your help to one will necessarily be someone else's Harm)

Government by the people, Liberal government
“…does not consist in making others do what you think is right. The difference between a free Government and a Government which is not free is principally this -- that a Government which is not free interferes with everything it can, and a free Government interferes with nothing except what it must. A despotic government tries to make everybody do what it wishes, a Liberal Government tries, so far as the safety of society will permit, to allow everybody to do what he wishes.”

That said, the Constitution has about as much to do with the way the federal government currently, behaves as the NCAA rules of intercollegiate wrestling have to do with the WWE ( late WWF) Professional wrestling, It sickens and amuses me that anyone in Washington pretends differently.

As someone trained in the martial arts, I recognize the difference between the WWE charade, and the rules of athletic competition, as well as being aware that the rules I operate under as a martial artist in self defense is simply to “Win”.

I tried to be honorable in collegiate wrestling and not hurt anyone, and so I never did wrestle in an actual collegiate meet. You might think that that means that I would approve of the free for all atmosphere of the WWE ( or by extension, our current federal government)

What I would say is, whatever the WWE is doing, it isn't wrestling.
Whatever the Federal government is currently doing, it isn't Liberal government.

As far as getting my hands dirty, I'd quit trying to weight the outcome one way or the other, and referee fairly, not “help”, and not attempt to impose my conscience on others.
I'd try to play by the rules as written, not as interpreted by “Professionals”

And if I had to fight for my life ( or my honor) with a “professional wrestler”, I wouldn't wrestle him.

I'd shoot him.
The assumption is that the system is an interaction of earnest thinkers with ideals and principles working to establish and maintain a working order to benefit the whole. What we have is a mass of eager self interested no-holds barred unprincipled rats fighting for the biggest piece of whatever is prized. It is a pile of manure crawling with maggots. Not worth plunging into.
You might take a look at
to get some perspective about what is the general operating principle of the country.
From the founding era to the early 20th century, congreeional representatives could fairly stand for their constituents, but also voted in political blocs (the farm bloc, Eastern finance, resource exploitation in the West, etc.), and of course divided by the issue of slavery before the Civil War. Now all is changed by the emergence of the general business lobby in the form of the US Chamber of Commerce and the well-funded specific business associations. The USCC claims to represent mom-and-pop businesses, a ruse maintained by the local Chambers that meet behind the donut shop, but in fact most of their $200 million annual operating budget comes from a handful of major corporations. Elected politicians face an unwholesome choice in this rigged game: keep holding bake sales so they can vote their conscience, or take the corporate money and just buy the next election even if some conscious constituents raise a fuss.
The congress does the big money's bidding; and that is a fact, Unfortunate but a fact nonetheless. The only solution is informed voters, and we don't have many of those. Excellent piece, Kosh. R
Nerd cred,
I agree about that.

That's one reason, but another reason predates that issue. It's not just a question of money, though it has certainly become more a question of that, particularly since the Supreme Court's decision influencing superPACs. Now, politicians are constantly panicking about raising money because of the possibility that they'll face a major ad buy-in from their competitor the week before the election. Still, though, believe it or not I'm not talking about corruption here. This post isn't about corruption, it's about what goes into ostensibly moral choices. In the example I gave, I'm not 100% sure I know which would be the more courageous choice.

Glad to see you. You're way right about Obama not being a poker player - I've rarely read a bigger understatement.

You actually addressed my question, which most of my longer commenters haven't, when you said

"The bottom line for me is very simple: when you are confronting a great evil, there's small comfort in knowing that you have contributed to the evil the process of attempting to do a little good. " You'll notice that when I was talking about my own reaction in the post, one of my questions about my case was, though phrased in more specific terms: How great is the evil in question?

A good question but I don't think the one I'm asking. I'm not talking about cheating per se. Still, I enjoyed the story in the comment.

Overall, we are looking at a Congress that looks more like that which you describe than it used to. Even if it does, how does one navigate it most effectively?

Yes, it certainly starts before the Hill.
Thank you.

Yes, it has all changed, and concentration of wealth leading to concentration of political inflence leading to more concentration of wealth, etc., is why. Though true, it's still not exactly the question I'm asking.

My point is this:
Actions have consequences, and the most responsible action is not always the purest.

In my example, a new Congressman has a choice between a gay rights law that passes concurrently with a bad local environmental exemption and a gay rights law that doesn't pass concurrently with a bad local environmental exemption that does pass. So, the end result is either 1. the gay rights law passes or 2. the gay rights law fails to pass; in either case, the environmental exemption passes. The first choice looks more responsible if that's the only data we have because at least one of the results is favorable. However, I'm hearing some say that the second choice is more responsible once we add how the votes work into the mix.

I'm not sure. I will admit that I am not completely comfortable sacrificing successful passage of a gay rights bill for my reputation and comfort. In that case, would my purity be a luxury?

If I were to follow that logic to its conclusion, I would get trapped in it. Worst case, a Nazi conundrum that I believe is fictional: Here are two kids; decide which one is to die or both die. The answer I would give in that case is that there is a fallacy behind it: Under no circumstances am I responsible for either murder, as I have not chosen the nature of this choice. So, to back it off, one could claim that I was not responsible for the failure of the gay rights bill to pass. In that respect, I could in theory vote my own way down the line with a clean conscience.

Still, I could help more people if I got my hands dirty and I'm there to help more people. That's my job. I wasn't hired to be a walking position paper.

Is there a point at which it beomces tolerable? I mean voting against your inclination on something because it buys you the ability to pass something you think is really important.
And my point is that you cannot navigate wisely. Congress is no more an instrument of the democratic system, it is a theatrical farce to distract the populace that somehow they are still in control. There is a good reason that most congressmen are millionaires or close to it. They represent those that are in monetary control of the country and you cannot navigate within a totally corrupt system. You must use force outside the formalities of politics. Whether that force is violent or not, I cannot say. It is quite evident that the enforcement agencies, the police, the FBI, the military are bracing themselves for a forceful reaction to the great and growing miseries of the country and I do not relish the greater miseries resulting from what looks like an inevitable clash nor do I have any concept of the outcome.
Interesting variation. I ask: Compromise or don't compromise?
You answer: Don't run for Congress; the system is rigged to begin with.

At this point, it actually is rigged, so that may be the wrong arena.

What I'm getting at is a variation of what Jan is saying-
As a Congressman, you do not have legitimate authority to either vote your conscience, or "help" people-
He says essentially that you can't avoid getting your hands dirty- which is true, I am saying that you pose a question that exceeds your authority.

We have Professional Wrestlers ( actors, clowns, stunt-men) pretending to hold an intercollegiate wrestling meet, making up the rules as they go along.

I'll make another example- If you are the investigator in a missing child case, and you've caught the child molester that you believe has kidnapped a child- will you torture him to to find out where the child is?

The short and nasty answer is that you haven't the authority to do so. That you would even think about doing it is corruption of your actual legal authority.

That you would go ahead and torture your prisoner ( as the noble cops on the TV crime dramas do) would, in a system of honor, require that you then cleanse yourself and the office, by committing Seppuku. ( (by the way, you have the wrong guy)

In relation to my parable of "Professional Wrestlers" holding an intercollegiate wrestling meet and "Dirty Hands", I'm further struck by the notion that once you've decided that what you are doing is essentially a morality play with rules that you make up solely for entertainment and your own enrichment, it's too late to quibble about "Dirty Hands" ( "the rules" vs your morality )

If you're going to hold a circus in a church, you might as well be the clown as the ringmaster. In either case, I'm not going to mistake you for a priest, and it is insulting and absurd that you should dress up in vestments and pretend to be one.
PS- not YOU personally, I'm afraid i was thinking of some of our more self righteous congress critters- of either denomination.
Exceeds your authority how? Congress can legislate all sorts of things that it should legislate. What would be wrong with, for example, increasing Pell Grants?

So if we think that it would be good for the economy to give students more aid for college education, but the only way we can accomplish that is by putting a pork barrel project in some legislator's district, do we do it? It's essentially legislative graft, but these kids need help, and our economy could run into problems if they stay in debt their whole lives. In an ideal world, we don't deal with graft, but someone puts a pretty face on this pork barrel project and calls it necessary, even though we know different.

So, clean hands and a bad economy and students fighting with debt for the rest of their lives, or dirty hands (which has a little ambiguity when people claim that the pork barrel project really isn't one) and a better economy with students suffering less?

What is being moral? What is being naive? What is being responsible? What is being realistic? I can make either case.

"Can" and "May" are different attitudes toward consent. To have valid authority to legislate, you must have my CONSENT- not my implied consent, not consent that I've some how unwittingly given by my presence in society, you need my actual informed consent, or I have no moral obligation to comply, and we are back to government by force majeur. To paraphrase Younger bear in "Little Big Man", if you force me without my consent (Rape- Rapio- Latin :seize by force) , I am free to kill you without becoming a bad person.

In the same manner, that consent to have sex is the difference between making love and rape- let's be clear about what we are discussing.

Of course, congress DOES all sorts of things it doesn't have the authority to do under the Constitution. ( I'm sorry, the process for amending the Constitution does not include bribing someone you hate by pretending his seizure of unauthorized power is "legal" so that he will pretend yours is. )

The analogy I make is that Wrestling, as defined by the NCAA has a certain set of rules. Either you agree to play by them, or your play is not sanctioned by the NCAA.
To have our current congress pretend that it is operating under the Constitution is as ludicrous as the WWE seeking to hold an NCAA sanctioned tournament.

I was pushing the analogy by pointing out that I was constrained by NCAA rules from using a more deadly form of fighting to obtain "victory", and that there is a clear distinction between what the rules authorize for wrestling competition vs mortal combat. I could certainly have chocked to death the kid who beat me at wrestling, but I doubt that they would have let me compete in his place.

"Professional" wrestling is not mortal combat, it is the performance art version of NCAA wrestling, wherein the actors do a morality play that has been worked out among them beforehand. No one with any sense actually thinks that there are any rules that actually apply, the referee is a mere stooge and buffoon. who may or may not do his own bit to further the action by taking bribes, turning a blind eye, or just being terminally gullible.

Our congress is currently way beyond any authority ever envisioned by the Constitution. Your agonizing over whether going along to get along with the stunt men currently pretending to authority is roughly equivalent to agonizing over whether you should abide by the NCAA rule about “no choke holds” while everyone around you is hitting each other with chairs.

Or, as in the other, perhaps more applicable metaphor, it is like a clown troop who have taken over a church and are mockingly performing a black mass on the alter. That one of them should scruple about whether he is “permitted” to hear confessions is both rather naive and rather ludicrous. ( We won't get into blasphemous and heretical)

All that to say, I don't recognize the authority of Congress, as they are currently interpreting the rules: ie: so that the big time wrestling promoters ( Crony Capitalists) can make huge profits and pay the promotional fees and bribes so necessary for the continuance of the performance.

That doesn't mean that I don't have to put up with them.

What it means is that, if one of the “professional Wrestlers” challenges me to a “Fight” ( tries to enforce his unlawful “authority”) I 'm not going to go all “Martial Arts” on him. I'm going to shoot him. And I won't become a bad person by doing so.

Gay Marriage? The state has no business being in the marriage promotion business .
If you want to give certain advantages to “incorporated” couples ( or multiples- or pets, or lawn furniture) we can discuss it, but I won't consent to your authority to make a law concerning it. ( we really need to revisit the whole concept of Non – natural personhood)

Environmental legislation? That is a valid public concern, as far as empirical evidence can be gathered of public harm- but I'm not willing to consent to the legislation of hysteria and puffery by “statistical analysis” by either side of an issue.

You, perhaps are unconcerned with my permission, and will wave it aside as irrelevant-

And then our “government” can revert from any semblance of “Liberality” and “ Democracy” and get back to the honest basics of who is most efficient at either killing off or enslaving those who will not consent to be raped. I've got neighbors who are looking forward to it- how about you?
So you are making a similar case to Jan's - that the question is irrelevant because the institution in question is so far past legitimate that what I'm asking is the equivalent of (to use a cliche) rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

I'm puzzled by one thing you said: "I'm not willing to consent to the legislation of hysteria and puffery by 'statistical analysis' by either side of an issue." What's your problem with statistical analysis in particular? It's actually quite useful. It can also be manipulated, though manipulation can often be spotted if the numbers aren't actually fabricated.

One of these days I might write a post about the basics of keeping research valid and how to tell if someone is trying to or not. I try not to toss around too much jargon but I won't hesitate to use a term like "controlling for a variable." It occurs to me that not all readers will know what I'm talking about.

Similar, but not the same.

It's quite possible ( not likely) that the wrestlers in the WWE could decide that they will go back to playing by NCAA rules. ( Many of them are former collegiate wrestlers) In wrestling practice at OSU, we would quite often have informal "wrastling" matches, what you might think of as precoursers of mixed martial arts contests. but we knew the difference.

You could make a difference in congress, just by refusing to play or go along until everyone agrees to return to the original rules. many of the 2010 freshman class T-party congressmen were elected on a pledge to do just that.

As for blasphemous clowns taking over the church, hell, any 16th century Roman Catholic clergy man would have told you that that was exactly what Martin Luther and his gang were doing.

Not by Catholic doctrine, but by protestant, any one of the clowns might find himself called by god and lead the circus back into the righteous use of the church as it was meant to be.

It is absolutely worth running for congress, but going along to get along is why the people have lost respect for congress and government in general, and quite frankly, refuse to recognize its authority to meddle with their lives.

Is congress to be a body that has the consent of the people, or is it to be like any other instrument of rape, used by the privileged to lend an air of authority to their crimes?

Would you mind if I posted your theme, and my comments and your replies on my blog? I am interested in how others view the authority and consent which we allow our government.

"Science" is so corrupted by "Funding" at this point that it has become the collection of cherry picked statistics that prove whatever your funding source wants to prove - science must rely on statistics for some of its theories about things too large to be directly measured, true. But, as they say, statistics may not lie, but statisticians do.
Yes, you can post it.

That statistics don't lie but statisticians do is my point.

I'm getting the impression that a lot of the readers of this post aren't quite getting where I'm going. My point wasn't about going along to get along - it was not about surviving in an institution. The dilemma I posed had those factors listed but that wasn't the core of the question. The core was about the tension between maintaining purity and getting something done. I'm assuming that the protagonist in my scenario is moral throughout the decision.


My point in regard to the question of maintaining purity vs getting something done, is that you cannot "get something done" unless you have the authority to do it. Your moral purity is what gives you the authority to enforce your will on others. ( Torture the kidnapper to find out where he has the victim). But, in acquiring the means, you have lost the end.

Many warrior tribes ( including the Israelites, if I'm not mistaken) have/had elaborate purification rituals that must be observed to regain honor after a warrior had polluted himself by "doing what was necessary".

My point about congress is their insistence that there is no set of rules binding them, They and the rest of the federal government are mainly composed of lawyers willing to quibble endlessly with you about what the meaning of "is" is, rather than acknowledge the plain fact that they have abandoned any pretext of moral authority. ( By moral authority I mean both the consent of the governed and the ability to lead by example)

The Chinese and Japanese had the best system for deciding whether "getting something done" was worth breaking your moral code. A warrior could do anything he felt necessary, so long as he killed himself after ward.

I'd be delighted to see that moral code adopted by our congress.
I might elaborate a bit on this by attempting to explain my “Moral Code”

I have an obligation to love and help all beings as if they were my SELF- and in doing so, I both accept and express my love of god ( my community of being)

I divide all beings into “Reasonable Creatures” and “varmints”

Reasonable Creatures include all creatures, human or not, with whom I share communion- mutual respect and love. This includes my pets, your pets and most domestic creatures.

“Varmints” are those creatures ( some will present themselves as human) with whom I cannot maintain a reasonable relationship of mutual respect. I am enjoined to love them anyway.

The difference is, that if varmints will not respect me, I may ask them to please not annoy me, until finally I have had enough, ( “enough” may be anywhere from seconds in the case of an ambushing predator to decades with an unresponsive official) and from that point on, I may treat them as sports equipment. (in the most loving way possible, of course) without becoming a bad person.
"My point in regard to the question of maintaining purity vs getting something done, is that you cannot "get something done" unless you have the authority to do it."

OK. I'm interested in examining this at a micro level, not a macro level. Congress does have a set of rules. Perhaps they are way too lax, but they have them. As a Congressman, in my example our protagonist would not be violating rules to vote for an environmental exemption on a given project in order to get a gay rights bill pushed through. However, on a personal level it could cost him/her moral capital and that moral capital may be helpful in future endeavors.

Most people aren't looking at this post in terms of my question, but we're getting a little closer. This post is not about Congress, it's about conflicting moral imperatives. Not imperatives having to do with personal power, but actual moral imperatives.

We start with a moral actor and we continue with an actor who has two goals, as stated:

1. Vote your conscience

2. Help people

At no point are we departing from either of these criteria, nor are we supplanting them with anything else. We are assuming we have a warrior here, trying to figure out this battlefield. At no point does this warrior forget who or what he/she is fighting for.

So, a situation presents itself. In front of the warrior is a choice to accept or reject. The warrior is given the opportunity to accomplish something important for his/her constituents. This opportunity does not involve actually hurting any constituents because it is not literally within his/her power to affect the outcome of one of the battles. However, taking this opportunity will besmirch his/her honor with some constituents, though not with fellow warriors, who will understand the choice.

Does the warrior opt to accomplish something for his/her constituents, the reason that he/she became a warrior, or does the warrior opt not to because the appearance of impropriety must be avoided at all costs?

Seppuku means the warrior is useless in the next battle. The warrior is needed in the next battle. Seppuku is self-indulgent - not an acceptance of responsibility in this case but cowardice in the face of shame, shame earned by actually fulfilling responsibility and mission to the best of his/her ability.

Part of the problem here is that the codes appear to differ. It's not so much that the codes between the constituents and the other warriors necessarily differ by that much (though, at this point in our history, they really do) but that it is too difficult to make constituents understand what winning battles really entails.

The question is about the moral dilemma. Politics is sull of moral dilemmas. Purity is a fallback but it can be a facile one, and you will see that over and over on OS. Many will say what not to do without saying what to do. Saying what not to do is not enough because alternatives are comparative: Presented with Choice A and Choice B, one cannot legitimately be told to reject Choice A without knowing what Choice B is. "Choice A is awful" happened in Germany in 1933; Choice B was Hitler. It's the classic Third World choice of the Corrupt or the Zealots. In Gaza, that choice led to Hamas. In Cambodia, it allowed the rise of Pol Pot.

In 2000, many voted for Ralph Nader, thinking that there was no difference between the major party candidates. How do you think we'd look now if the guy who became President was an environmentalist technocrat who would have started shifting us from fossil fuels to renewables, would have invested more heavily in new (particularly green) technologies and infrastructure (keeping in mind that Gore spearheaded the effort in Congress that resulted in the funding of the Internet), would have had no reason to get us involved in Iraq, would have almost guaranteed had a more regulated financial industry, would not have made Supreme Court appointments that turned corporations legally into people who could fund SuperPACs with impunity, and would have supported a much more equitable tax structure than we ended up with? Our finances, environment, international reputation, etc. would be immeasurably ahead of where we are now, even if Gore only managed to accomplish a fraction of this, just because of all the crap we'd have avoided.

Choosing "Not A" isn't good enough.
Many thanks for this, Kosh. Your last comment here gets to the point quite well. I keep wondering how the people who are so insistent that we vote for a progressive candidate to drive a point home about how Obama has disappointed liberals feel about what happened to the country thanks to that type of "message sending" when the Nader votes cost Gore the election.
I am afraid that in the example you gave, if the environmental law I was against was going to pass anyway, and I could get a progressive law passed that I believed in, I would be one with dirty hands. I have the more practical thought of getting things done if at all possible.
The truth is that I probably would, too, because it would accomplish more. I'd make my apologies, probably up front, to the organizations in question, understanding that I wouldn't have that kind of flexibility the next time a conflict came around with that kind of issue.

you pose a Lawyers dilemma- let me compare and contrast it with a warrior's dilemma.

you've captured an enemy soldier who knows not only where some of your men are being held captive and tortured, but also where a surprise suicide bomber attack is scheduled to kill hundreds of innocent civilians.

And, it's not as if they aren't torturing your men when they capture them, you know that they are. In fact, the prisoner boasts of having beheaded one of your men, just to see what it felt like.

Do you torture him to make him tell you what he knows?

Your congressman's dilemma is viewed in the same terms as you would view torturing the prisoner. If you will do that, you can't be trusted - The only way you can be trusted to have been sincere in your reasons for doing it, rather than to have done it for some obscure personal and dishonorable reason, is to prove how sincere you are. If you are sincere about the need to violate your moral code, you need to prove that you expect no personal gain from it. The obvious way to prove that is for you to kill yourself when your immoral act is completed. Then you will be honored, rather than despised

You must at least endure a harsh and painful purification rite.

These sorts of things are why Obama is viewed as not merely dishonorable but disgusting by the Seals who killed Osama. Their Honor was in obeying and carrying out a dishonorable raid in which they were essentially told to murder a man and anyone who got in their way, no matter how personally distasteful such killing might be. They did as they were ordered. That is their honor.

They are disgusted that Obama is crowing about the "honor" he gained by ordering the murder. And of course, it makes it that much easier for him to decide that there is no dishonor, or even illegality, in murdering American citizens by drone.

He may have the power, but he doesn't have the authority, and his actions make him less and less worthy to be entrusted with authority.

Ends do not justify means. Ever. You may sincerely believe that it was the "right" thing to do, but don't complain that no one trusts you anymore, or accepts your authority.
Perhaps it is in the military that one is faced with the conundrums of pragmatic effectiveness most brutally. The saccharine terminology of "collateral damage" stands out most strongly in recent history of how much negativity can become digestible to attain a preferred goal without totally making that goal itself completely unworthy. How many innocent women, children, (and why not men?), must be brutally injured and killed to attain the objective target? What basic moral principles and concepts must be held beyond bargaining, must remain totally untouched under all conditions? Was Hiroshima or Dresden, Iraq, Afghanistan and perhaps the coming Iranian debacle worth the final result or was it even necessary? What was Vietnam really about? Are the totally objectionable powers now in dynamic operation in the disgusting disrespectful behaviors at the airports by the Home Security really a necessary sacrifice for the halting of the assumed terrorist threats of exploding underwear and shoes? Has the widespread use of drones been a reasonable sacrifice of the death at wedding parties, funerals, and kids gathering firewood and tending sheep? Is there a fundamental morality deep within decent civilization that must be the sounding board for all actions or can it be totally violated on the possibility of assumed necessary results? Should Obama be accorded what is no less than the absolute powers of a dictator to kill anyone disagreeing with his personal concept of a threat to his sense of acceptability to society with no way to permit other judgments? Where do the absolute limits lay? Or are there any? Is it a government of laws or of men?

When a representative is sent to a legislature should he be totally responsive to his constituents' wishes or should he have internal integrity where his/her personality is an important part of the package so leadership beyond responsiveness is to predetermined wishes of his constituents prevails? Not easy questions but of prime importance and civilization hangs in the balance.
Overall, I have to come down on sagemerlin's answer to this question, which is that representatives are elected in part on the basis of what moral stands they take, not on how well they follow orders. I think conscience is more important than obedience here and I think that's actually the nature of the job, provided that one actually exercises conscience and doesn't let opportunism overrule it.

HRdR and Rw005g,
I understand about issue priorities but this post isn't actually about issue priorities. The warrior analogy does not apply here because the Congressman is not being asked to harm anyone. The vote he/she is being asked to cast is a cosmetic addition to a foregone conclusion, in exchange for which he/she is being traded a substantive benefit for constituents involving increased justice. If the Congressman were being asked to really sell out one constituency over another, the decision would be clear cut and we wouldn't have a dilemma on our hands. The point of this exercise is to make the decision morally ambiguous for real. In the warrior example, one choice involves conduct with very real victims; in the Congressman example, it doesn't. There is no requirement that the Congressman not contact environmentally concerned constituents and explain what he/she is doing and why, so that's not part of the equation.

Rw, of course legislators rank priorities. That's no secret.
I doubt the war analogy can be lightly dismissed. There may not be outright murders involved in legislative effects but there are years of misery, debt, enslavement to s vicious economy and actual death out of unaffordable medial expenses and food deprivation for huge sectors of citizens. Legislation is not a totally innocuous field of operation.
Typos again. Sorry.
It should read:

I doubt the war analogy can be lightly dismissed. There may not be outright murders involved in legislative effects but there are years of misery, debt, enslavement to a vicious economy and actual death out of unaffordable medical expenses and food deprivation for huge sectors of citizens. Legislation is not a totally innocuous field of operation.
I'm not objecting to war as an analogy per se; in fact, I introduced the Warrior term (because I knew I was talking to HRdR and he's big on that). I'm objecting to his torture scenario because it introduces a factor not in my original - one of my alternatives could result in a damaged reputation but it specifically did not have actual substantive victims. The fact that it didn't is where I derived my ambiguity, and ambiguity is my topic. As far as I'm concerned, torture took it out.