“Sticking to Your Values”

If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values, they’re hobbies.

-Jon Stewart

That might be my favorite modern quote, because it’s one that rings so true these days, on both sides of the aisle.  Every single president elect in recent times has stood up when the votes were tallied and the opposing party has conceded and given a speech about how they will change this and make that right and accomplish this.  They say they will work with the other party.  They claim we need to stick to our values, to make our country great again.  In the end, most of the things we say end up getting tossed out the window.  The context of that quote was in response to Bill O’Reilly saying that sometimes we need to compromise our values to keep our country safe.

Every single one of us who went to grade school in the United States grew up learning the core values this country was founded on and later built upon:  freedom, opportunity, and tolerance.  We have all come to be told that justice is blind, and the law treats all equally.  If this is the case, why did the United States go against two documents it signed – the treaties of the Geneva Convention and the United Nations Convention Against Torture (signed by Reagan) – and torture captives at Guantanamo Bay?  We generally react pretty strongly when a country says one thing and does another, especially something we disagree on, why should we not expect others to do the same about us? 

In World War II both the Japanese and the Germans used waterboarding on prisoners.  This was decried as torture by our country.  This was declared as wrong by the Geneva Convention.  In spite of this the United States, under the direction of at least Vice President Dick Cheney, authorized waterboarding to be used on captives at Guantanamo Bay.  He not only admitted as much, he’s been openly critical of the current administration for their official stance against torture.  So we have a former vice president who has openly admitted to authorizing torture, and has said torture saved lives despite evidence to the contrary.

Almost as bad, we have a current president who is refusing to investigate the previous administration under the guise of extending an olive branch to the other side.  Even if no crime was technically committed, the spirit of the Geneva Convention and the UNCAT were broken giving the US a black eye in the view of the world.  Just another reason for the rest of the world to view the US as an aging bully, throwing waning power around because it’s scared.  Going right along with the scared bully image is J.D. Hayworth, running for John McCain’s seat in Arizona in 2010.  Appealing to the terrorist-fearing crowd, he recently said not only was Dick Cheney right to authorize torture, he didn’t go far enough.  We should not only be waterboarding anyone who might have information to give, we should be breaking fingers and shoving bamboo shoots under toenails.  The message I’m getting:  torture is wrong when the Japanese do it to us in WWII, but we’re allowed to use it when we feel like because we’re the US.

Dropping your values when it suits you is nothing new in politics.  Joe Lieberman claimed that he would fight for health care for everyone in Connecticut when he ran for senate in 2008, now he’s the poster child for me-first, just-vote-against-the-other-guy politics.  After the first World Trade Center in 1993, then-mayor Rudy Guilliani praised the US civillian justice system for its handling of Omar Abdel-Rahmanm.  When Zacarias Moussaoui was convicted in 2006, Guilliani expressed displeasure at him not getting a death sentence from a civillian jury, but said it shows the United States is commited to fairness and law. 

Fast forward to 2010 when Barrack Obama said he wants to shut down Guantanimo Bay and try the remaining terrorists in NYC and Guilliani acts like Chicken Little and claims the trials will make a mockery of the US justice system and our country is ill-suited to handling terrorist trials.  Little Fact, Rudy:  91% of terrorist trials in the last 12 years have resulted in a conviction.  I would expect more from a man who built his pre-political career as a tough prosecutor, but since he can’t go two breaths without utterng 9/11 I’m not surprised.

It’s not all partisan, though.  One of my biggest issues with Barrack Obama is his claiming on the campaign trail that any alleged US torture needs to be investigated.  President Obama has dropped the ball on this, as there is no sign of an official investigation and I can only assume it’s both a futile olive-branch gesture to the right and a pre-emptive covering of his own butt once he gets out of office.

Sticking to your values is a rare, rare thng in politics these days.  To finish up here, I’d like to salute two very, very different men in politics who have stuck to their values in recent times:  Dennis Kucinich and Ken Starr.  Congressman Kucinich as spoken out against the current health care bill being tossed around for a “reconciliation” vote because it does not contain a public option or a single-payer system.  He has been steadfast on the issue to the point of being willing to be the deciding vote against it.  Ken Starr recently spoke out against Liz Cheney for attacking US Justice Department lawyers as an Al-Quaeda sympathists because they defended terrorists in the US justice system.  Mr. Starr says that lawyers have a fine tradition of trying their best no matter who they’re assigned to defend, and he would do the same.  Sticking to your values may be rare in politics these days, but it need not be one side or the other.  In the end it makes you look like a far, far better person.

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Zarberg is a member of The Political Observers, a sub-group of our writers who are devoted to topics that are political in nature. Zarberg provides a liberal viewpoint in his articles.

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