Memorial Day is one of those holidays that renews the vital foundations of America. This year, the music, symbolism and reflection allowed me to reach a train of thought examining the foundational values and behaviors of honesty and integrity.
The aftermath of the recent era of national elections has left me somewhat bewildered at how far America has moved from the high ideals of George Washington’s “I cannot tell a lie” and the esteem given to “Honest Abe” Lincoln. My heartfelt belief is that both of those great presidents would object to the modern trends of relying on political character assassination, fear and smear political messages, and campaigns based on what you can get away with rather than high ideals and an inspiring vision for the future of our country.
Several respectable and influential people complimented me on how they felt I demonstrated honesty and integrity in my military service as I was heading out to retirement. I had always found that exaggeration and lies were symptoms of fundamental weakness in those who would rely on those behaviors. It didn’t take very long in uniform for me to steel myself against those temptations and guard against relying on those who I felt were too willing to stretch the truth.
My command experience solidified the need for unwavering honesty. Double standards and deception are a formula for disaster when you’ve got almost 100 pairs of eyes watching your every action and word. One of my few regrets of my military service was writing a plagiarized award because the general wanted his buddy the colonel to get a prestigious medal. I guess that was the penalty for success when it gains the attention of the vain and opportunistic.
Perhaps that’s the point of the moral and ethical decline that has become an invasive disease in our political discourse. It seems that the serious players in the major political parties get that way by demonstrating how vicious and devastating they can be towards the opposition. The opportunity is there to exaggerate and act outside the bounds of integrity and too many contemporary politicos are more than willing to join in.
Some are likely to disagree with this, but I mark the case of the Willie Horton TV ad during the 1988 Presidential campaign as the first downward step. It was success of that fearful television message that boosted the political careers of FOX News President Roger Ailes, G.W. Bush Chief of Staff Andrew Card, and the late Lee Atwater. While these three were central to the first great fear and smear campaign, too many political operatives of all shapes have followed their lead.
I can’t accept a candidate or office holder who is there through “get away with it” practices. Not everything that is wrong has a criminal penalty. There is still too much that is settled by lawsuits. Or, worse yet, some kind of quasi-judicial appointed board or commission. Then there is the great temptation to approve political actions based on “it’s not specifically against the law” or “it’s allowed in the law.” That’s the hard line of integrity that I see too many candidates and elected officials willing to cross.
After a holiday dedicated to the memory of those who sacrificed for duty, honor and country, I expect more from those who would seek and hold political office. Realistically, I know that very few politicians can meet all of the high ideals and standards I admired during my military service. But, to get my support I will be certain of their honesty and integrity.