Ossie Davis died today, a sad passing not just because he was a great actor but because he stood for values often ignored in the current political climate. Mr. Davis battled for civil rights and worked to help the needy here and in other troubled lands. In a recent interview he spoke of how “the truth” was his North Star, the guiding principle that was such an important part of the life he shared with his wife, Ruby Dee. Would that our leaders held principles of truth and integrity in such high regard.
Unfortunately, we have the spectacle in our Congress of politicians who place party loyalty above what principle and moral rectitude might otherwise dictate. In the House, Speaker Hastert will not allow any bill to be brought to the floor that is not first approved by the Republican leadership. And if members of his party act too independently the Speaker has seen fit to remove, for example, Joel Hefley from his position as Chairman of the Ethics Committee, presumably for his willingness to admonish Tom DeLay for questionable behavior. Likewise Chris Shays (CT) was denied a committee chair to which he was entitled – not loyal enough apparently. Clubbing members into submission and changing the rules of the House have produced an Ethics Committee in name only, and promise to strangle free debate to the detriment of good governance. Republican loyalists who serve only to rubber stamp the dictates of Congressional leaders and The White House do not serve the best interests either of their constituents or the general public.
We seem to have ended up with a government peopled predominantly by loyal but often only marginally competent individuals. Consider Condoleezza Rice’s remarks in London today. While Europe grapples with the issue of Iran’s nuclear program in discussions with that country, Ms. Rice not only minimized those efforts but felt compelled to make Europe party to U.S. opinion saying, “I think our European allies agree that the Iranian regime’s human rights behavior and its behavior toward its own population is something to be loathed.” Is this inflammatory rhetoric what we should have expected from a Secretary of State on her first trip abroad during a time of sensitive negotiations? Her conduct hardly befits the country’s top diplomat, but, perhaps she is just carrying out an administration strategy to sabotage the talks in order to pursue a more militant approach. Ms. Rice is nothing if not loyal to the president.
Loyalty, however, can never take the place of honest, fact-based policy assessments and truthful relationships with the electorate. Narrow, ideology-driven decisions based on blind faith should not form the basis of either foreign or domestic policy. After passage of his massive tax cuts benefiting mostly the wealthy, the president now says we must reduce the deficit, and he proposes to start doing this by dismantling or de-funding domestic programs, in particular those that service the poor, like Medicare for example. For political standard bearers who strut upon the moral high ground and claim to be good Christians it is puzzling that so few of them seem to recall that Jesus said ‘if you have done it unto the least of these my brethren you have done it unto me.’ He was referring to good deeds, but obviously the reverse works as well. If appointees and loyal supporters are comfortable with whatever spins out of the White House, others remain in a constant state of confusion and disbelief.
There’s enough disingenuous doublespeak to make anyone’s head spin in the president’s explanation of plans to reshape Social Security or perhaps dismantle it. For all the talk about ownership and better returns it seems funds would continue to be tied to government’s apron strings. At retirement, private investment accounts would be converted into annuities by the government, guaranteeing retirees a poverty-level income. Any overage beyond what would be needed to accomplish this would be the retiree’s to keep. Of course there are numerous questions about what one might reasonably expect to gain by going the private-account route, but if all this isn’t especially clear at the moment some things are abundantly clear. The massive borrowing needed to establish the new system would add enormously to the national debt, and a program that has long provided a stable safety net to protect workers in their old age will have become an iffy, ill-defined premise.
Once again the public is left to wonder what its leaders are doing and to whom they are accountable. Some Americans may actually want their country to be seen as a beacon of truth and integrity not empty rhetoric and bellicose posturing, and some of us may even think our government should not only protect us militarily but have a care about the weakest among us.

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