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Sunday, October 14, 2012


It is morally tragic whenever a citizen’s only choice is between two wrongdoers—that is, between two trimmers.
A trimmer, according to the dictionary, is one who changes his opinions and policies to suit the occasion. In contemporary political life, he is any candidate whose position on issues depends solely on what he thinks will have most voter appeal. He ignores the dictates of his higher conscience, trims his personal idea of what is morally right, tailors his stand to the popular fancy. Integrity, the accurate reflection in word and deed of that which is thought to be morally right, is sacrificed to expediency.
These are severe charges, and I do not wish to be misunderstood. One of countless personal experiences will help clarify what is meant: A candidate for Congress sat across the desk listening to my views about limited government. At the conclasion of an hour’s discussion he remarked, “I am in thorough accord with your views; you are absolutely right. But I couldn’t get elected on any such platform, so I shall represent myself as holding views other than these.” He might as well have added, “I propose to bear false witness.”
No doubt the candidate thought, on balance, that he was justified, that The Larger Good would be better served were he elected—regardless of how untruthfully he represented his position—than were he to stand for his version of the truth and go down to defeat.
This candidate is “a mixed-up kid.” His values are topsyturvy, as the saying goes. In an egotism that has no parallel, he puts his election to office above honesty. Why, asks the responsible voter, should I endorse dishonesty by voting for such a candidate? He has, on his own say-so, forsworn virtue by insisting on bearing false witness. Does he think his ambition for office is right because he needs a job? Then let him seek employment where want of principle is less harmful to others. Or, is his notion of Tightness based on how much the rest of us would benefit by having him as our representative? What? A person without moral scruple representing us in Congress! The role of the legislator is to secure our rights to life, liberty, and property—that is, to protect us against fraud, violence, prédation, and misrepresentation (false witness). Would our candidate have us believe that “it takes a crook to catch a crook”?
Such righteousness or virtue as exists in the mind of man does not and cannot manifest itself in the absence of integrity—the honest, accurate reflection in deeds of one’s beliefs. Without this virtue the other virtues must lie dormant and unused. What else remains? It is doubtful if anything contributes more to the diseased condition of society than the diminishing practice of integrity.
Those of us who attach this much importance to integrity must perforce construe trimming as evil. Therefore, when both candidates for public office are judged to be trimmers, the one who trims less than the other is often regarded as “the lesser of two evils.” But, is he really? It must be conceded that there are gradations of wrongdoing: killing is worse than stealing, and perhaps stealing is worse than covetousness. At any rate, if wrongdoing is not comparative, then it is self-evident that the best of us are just as evil as the worst of us; for man is fallible, all men!
Degrees of Evil
While categories of wrongdoing are comparative, it does not follow that wrong deeds within any given category of evil are comparative. For instance, it is murder whether one man is slain, or two. It is stealing whether the amount is ten cents or a thousand dollars. And, a lie is a lie whether told to one person or to a million. “Thou shalt not kill”; “Thou shalt not steal”; “Thou shalt not bear false witness” are derived from principles. Principles do not permit of compromise; they are either adhered to or surrendered.
Is trimming comparative? Can one trimmer be less at fault than another trimmer? Does the quantity of trimming have anything whatsoever to do with the matter? Or, rather, is this not a question of quality or character? To trim is to ignore the dictates of higher conscience; it is to take flight from integrity. Is not the candidate who will trim once for one vote likely to trim twice for more votes? Does he not demonstrate by any single act of trimming, regardless of how minor, that he stands ready to abandon the dictates of conscience for the place he seeks in the political sun? Does not the extent or quantity of trimming merely reflect a judgment as to how much trimming is expedient?
If the only question at issue is whether a candidate will trim at all, then trimming is not comparative; thus, it would be incorrect to report, “I cast my ballot for the lesser of two evils.” Accuracy would require, “I felt there was no choice except to cast a ballot for one of two men, both of whom have sacrificed integrity for the hope of votes.”
We must not, however, heap all our condemnation on candidates who trim. There would be no such candidates were it not for voters who trim. Actually, when we find only trimmers to vote for, most of us are getting what we deserve. The trimmers who succeed in offering themselves as candidates are, by and large, mere reflections of irresponsible citizenship—that is, of neglected thinking, study, education, vigilance. Candidates who trim and voters who trim are each cause and each effect; they feed on each other. When the worst get on top it is because there are enough of the worst among us to put them there.
To repeat, when one must choose between men who forsake integrity, the situation is tragic, and there is little relief at the polling level except as candidates of integrity may be encouraged by voters of integrity. Impractical idealism? Of course not! Read Edmund Burke, one of the great statesmen of all time, addressing his constituency:
But his [the candidate’s] unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure—no, nor from the law and the Constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

Anything That's Peaceful

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