The Left and Morality

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Dennis Prager has an intriguing post about the interaction among liberals of morality as a laundry list of public political positions combined with wretched personal behavior:

I first thought about this when I saw how the left-wing students at my graduate school, Columbia University, behaved. Aside from their closing down classes, taking over office buildings, and ransacking professors’ offices, I saw the way in which many of them conducted themselves in their personal lives. Most of them had little sense of personal decency, and lived lives of narcissistic hedonism. Women who were involved with leftist groups have told of how poorly they were treated. And one suspects that they would have been treated far better by conservative, let alone religious, men on campus.

My sense was that the radicals’ commitment to “humanity,” to “peace,” and to “love” gave them license to feel good about themselves without having to lead a good life. Their vocal opposition to war and to racism provided them with all the moral self-esteem they wanted.

Consider the example of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. He had been expelled from college for paying someone to take his exams. His role in the death of a woman with whom he spent an evening would have sent almost anyone without his family name to prison — or would have at least resulted in prosecution for negligent homicide. And he spent decades using so many women in so public a way that stories about his sex life were routinely told in Washington. Read the 9,000-word 1990 article in GQ by Michael Kelly, who a few years later became the editor of the New Republic.

When this unimpressive man started espousing liberal positions, speaking passionately about the downtrodden in society, it recalled the unimpressive students who marched on behalf of civil rights, peace and love.

It is quite likely that Ted Kennedy came to believe in the positions that he took. But I also suspect that he found espousing those positions invaluable to his self-image and to his public image: “Look at what a moral man I am after all.” And liberal positions were all that mattered to the left and to the liberal media that largely ignored such lecherous behavior as the “waitress sandwich” he made in a Washington, D.C. restaurant with another prominent liberal, former Senator Chris Dodd.

In addition to knowing that liberal positions provide moral cover for immoral personal behavior, liberals know that their immoral behavior will be given more of pass than exactly the same behavior would if done by a conservative.

Go here to read the rest.  This is all very unsurprising since morality to have any force must be based on religion.  If morality does not come as a result of revelation, then it is merely a matter of opinion and that is ever shifting.  Modern liberalism has little use for God, except when some God talk is useful during some political battle.  Otherwise God, and the moral code He gave to mankind, is to be dismissed from the public square, to be replaced with utilitarianism.  Thomas Cromwell, in the play A Man For All Seasons, puts this new dispensation quite well:

I know a man who wants to change his woman.  Normally a matter of small importance, but in this case…it’s our liege, Lord Henry, the eighth of that name.  Which is a quaint way of saying that if he wants to change his woman, he will.  And our job as administrators….is to minimise the inconvenience which this is going to cause.

Morality that comes from God is a code that binds us all, high and low, whether we live by it or not.  Morality that comes from politics will inevitably be at the beck and call of those who wield power.



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  1. I fear that there’s a strain of libertarianism that wants the same license, for the same reason. It hasn’t entered the political sphere yet – actually, I was going to say that, but how did Packwood hang on for so long? And wasn’t Schwarzenegger given a pass for a lot of things? Not that they were ideologically libertarian, but they were socially liberal and perceived as fiscally more conservative.

  2. Religion and its moral guidelines, Ten in number plus a Book, give those, who progress from cheating, lying, and stealing during school years to supporting death of innocents and degradation of human life, an excuse to find fault with and scoff at others trying to follow what is good, not bad.

  3. Pinky, that’s not libertarian. That’s libertine, and it’s the common thread they have with liberals. It’s why you haven’t seen it in ideological fom yet – it’s a personal trait. True libertarians know that liberty depends upon a moral, educated population that zealously guards its heritage. The left has little use for any of those.

  4. “but how did Packwood hang on for so long?”

    Packwood was a pro-abort and got the same pass that Kennedy did until the very end of his career. Packwood had sponsored a bill in the Senate to legalize abortion two years prior to Roe. He was a pro-abort pioneer. By the time the scandals broke that ended his career the Democrat party was well on its way to becoming the party of abortion and Packwood was no longer needed by the pro-aborts.

    Schwarzenegger always had scandals dogging him. He was bullet proof due to his Kennedy connection and because he was a pro-abort. Once Maria got fed up with him it was time for Arnold to go and not to come back.

  5. Schwarzenegger always had scandals dogging him. He was bullet proof due to his Kennedy connection and because he was a pro-abort.

    Arnold did, however, invest a lot of political capital backing a parental consent ballot initiative that, unfortunately, failed rather miserably. After that, he basically hid under his desk for the remainder of his time in office.

  6. Remember Arthur C. Brooks’ Syracuse University study from back in ’07? He
    compared the charitable giving of conservatives and liberals. While self-
    described liberal households reported an average of 6% more in annual income,
    the self-described conservative households claimed 30% more in charitable
    giving in their tax returns.

    The tax returns of some of our liberal elites are less than edifying. In the entire
    10 years combined before he became Vice President, Joe Biden and his wife
    gave a total of $3,690. To put that in perspective, that’s about 1/10th of the
    average charitable contributions of families in their tax bracket.

    In 1995, John Kerry– probably the richest man in the Senate today– reported
    $0 in charitable contributions. In ’93, he gave $175. In ’93 I was a broke
    college student and I still managed to give more than that!

    A comparison of the reported charitable contributions of the Obamas v. George
    W. Bush is also interesting. The Bushes have consistently reported charitable
    contributions of about 10%+ of their annual income. In the years 2000-2008,
    the Obamas averaged about 3.5%, on a combined annual income that was
    about 2 to 3 times more than Bush’s. In the years since becoming president,
    Obama has beefed up his contributions to slightly less than 6% of his annual
    reported income.

  7. I think a better description of Packwood would be ‘capitol hill careerist’, and was known for warm relations with the folks from Gucci gulch. The sad business was, by the close of his time in Congress he had ruined his marriage (telling his wife he wanted a divorce on the birthday of one of his children), had only faint ties to people in Oregon (his voting address was a trailer on his uncle’s property, which I suppose improves on Richard Lugar’s voting address), and went into the lobbying business after leaving the Senate just ahead of the heave-ho posse.

  8. Hegel, who is usually tediously wrong, has rare flashes of pure genius, and none better than his description of the Politics of Virtue:

    “Virtue is here a simple abstract principle and distinguishes the citizens into two classes only—those who are favourably disposed and those who are not. But disposition can only be recognized and judged of by disposition. Suspicion therefore is in the ascendant; but virtue, as soon as it becomes liable to suspicion, is already condemned . . . . Robespierre set up the principle of virtue as supreme, and it may be said that with this man virtue was an earnest matter. Virtue and Terror are the order of the day; for Subjective Virtue, whose sway is based on disposition only, brings with it the most fearful tyranny. It exercises its power without legal formalities, and the punishment it inflicts is equally simple—Death.”

    Thus, Robespierre, in a speech that reads like self-parody, “One wants [on veut] to make you fear abuses of power, of the national power you have exercised…One wants to make us fear that the people will fall victim to the Committees … One fears that the prisoners are being oppressed… I say that anyone who trembles at this moment is guilty; for innocence never fears public scrutiny.”

    What guarantee does the man of virtue, the republican citizen, have that he is really acting for the public good? What are the guarantees against self-delusion and hypocrisy? The only standard that the man of virtue can provide of his own moral goodness turned out ultimately to be his own self-certainty or sincerity.

  9. PJ O’Rourke summed up the Kennedys with devastating accuracy:

    “Old Joseph P Kennedy was a liar and a greedy thief, an ignoramus, adulterer, vile anti-Semite, coward and pompous ass. His wife Rose was a frigid martinet, unashamed to suckle at the teat of shabby lucre, awash in pietism and tartuffery, filled with the letter of Catholicism and empty of its spirit. They raised their nine whelps in an atmosphere of brutal pride and stupid competition. When the hapless Rosemary turned out to be retarded they had her lobotomized and parked her with the nuns. The remaining eight turned out to be foolhardy, arrogant, unprincipled, and wholly lacking in sense of consequences. This last trait caused Joe Jr and Kathleen to die in airplane crashes and allowed Jack to get his PT boat T-boned by a Japanese destroyer. (A tale of heroism was manufactured from that incident. The family wasn’t so lucky with Teddy’s Chappaquiddick skin-diving efforts three decades later).

    The Kennedys, however, continued to wax. Elections, individuals and press adulation were purchased. One family member rose , briefly, to great political power and almost unlimited sexual excess. Some others nearly achieved the same results. Two were shot but under the most romantic circumstances and not, as might have been hoped, after due process of law.”

  10. O’Rourke is generally engaging and insightful. In the interests of precision:

    1. Retrospective assessments of Rosemary Kennedy indicate her demonstrated skills in arithmetic were consistent with someone of subpar intelligence, not mental defect. Joseph Kennedy submitted her to the quackish care of Dr. Walter Freeman’s novel psychosurgery because of her erratic and temperamental behavior.

    2. As far as I am aware, no one in the Shriver clan (other than son-in-law Ahnold) has been implicated in any scandals. Patricia Lawford separated herself from her disspated husband in 1966, but I do not think she has ever been implicated in anything notably gross. Jean Smith’s son is repellant (and her late husband supposedly a flunky), but I do not think she has ever been implicated in anything either.

    3. About half of Robert Kennedy’s children have been scandalous, and one each of the Lawford, Smith, and Ted Kennedy broods. That would be 8 out of the 28 grandchildren have been the source of considerable embarrassment. Sad to say, that might be about average for families in this country.

  11. I do not know whether Bobbie and Jack (a high-level US civilain official gave the OK) approved murders of the Diem brothers in Saigon. We know both met similar demises.

    And that propaganda regarding PT 109 . . . The worst calamity a naval officer can incur is to lose his ship: even in glorious action. Jack got his scow run over . . . Providentially, the Scotch went down with the boat . . .

  12. I’m inclined to cut anyone slack in matters of psychiatry (and quackery) that took place a while ago. It’s an emerging field. Surgery 100 years ago, talking therapy 30 years ago, massive doses of chemicals today…I wonder how embarrassed by our current approach people will be in 50 years? (Of course, as Catholics, we understand the moral dimension of behaviour in a way that the secular field of psychiatry can’t, but that’s just an aside.)

  13. The heydey of pscyhosurgery was during the period between 1935 and 1955, not a century ago. It was unusual after the introduction of psychotropics in 1955 and I think may have disappeared entirely by about 1980. Walter Freeman completed his residency around about 1924 and he was a working psychiatrist for about a decade before he developed the lobotomy. There was not much in the way of controlled studies at that time and medical journals were filled with case reports (a phenomenon which aided the dissemination of largely useless talk therapies as well). By some accounts, professional courtesy at the time prevented one physician or surgeon from criticizing another bar behind closed doors, so Freeman was not receiving the resistance he should have. I am not sure why he was not chewed to pieces by personal injury lawyers.

  14. Watching the video again of Ted Kennedy after Chappaquiddick, I wonder if it would have been less damaging had he told the truth, namely that he and Kopechne had left the party intending to park up and have sex, but on being spotted by an off-duty policeman he had panicked and told her to drive back alone, the only explanation that seems remotely plausible. He would not have had to perjure himself and two others, would not have faced criminal charges (which could have included manslaughter), and would have saved himself a lot of money in bribes and legal fees (not that money was in short supply). I hope he was able to make a full confession before he died.

  15. “Watching the video again of Ted Kennedy after Chappaquiddick, I wonder if it would have been less damaging had he told the truth”

    He would still have had to have explained why he did not report the accident until the next morning. The reason he did not, I assume, is because he was worried about the impact on his career. That mattered far, far more than Kopechne’s life. Afterwards he would tell Chappaquiddick jokes:

    Ted Kennedy wasn’t worthy to be spat upon.

  16. The position of Mary Jo Kopechne’s body in the car makes it unlikely she would have been in the passenger seat. The diver (who took only ten minutes to retrieve the body) also said she died from suffocation, not drowning as she found an air bubble which kept her alive for up to four hours. Kennedy would have gone back to the party assuming that she had driven back to the motel, and did not report the accident because he was unaware it had happened.

    Kennedy’s lawyers managed to get the inquest held in camera and (astoundingly) there was no autopsy.

  17. “Kennedy would have gone back to the party assuming that she had driven back to the motel, and did not report the accident because he was unaware it had happened.”

    Which makes absolutely no sense. It would have been better then for him to simply tell what happened. People were going, and did, to suspect an affair no matter what happened. His making up a story about trying to rescue her and then mysteriously not telling the authorities about it until morning makes absolutely no sense unless that part of the story was true. It would make him look worse than he was if your theory was correct to make up his driving off the bridge and what followed.

    There was an attempt to exhume Kopechne’s body for examination but her parents successfully opposed the request.

  18. On tax statement charity claims– just because something isn’t claimed doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

    I don’t think it’s PROBABLE that all these politicians are hiding their charity, but it’s possible. I’m rather glad that our income is low enough we take the default deduction….

  19. Don, it all comes back to O’Rourke’s point about the Kennedys being “wholly lacking in sense of consequences”. Once you start constructing an edifice of lies, you’ve got to stick with it, even if coming clean might be less damaging. The argument that “it’s so implausible, it must be true” can be made to work in your favour. The fact that Mary Jo left her purse and room keys behind would lead any reasonable person to infer that she intended to return to the party after having had sex with Teddy in the Oldsmobile. With the Kennedys it would only have lasted five minutes at most.

    Bill Clinton would have nonchalantly admitted to it and taken the consequences, but the moral climate in 1969 was different.

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