The Ethics Enigma By Bernard Rapoport Graham Greene exclaimed: “Our worst enemies here are not the ignorant and the simple, however cruel; our worst enemies are the intelligent and corrupt.” For me, this brings to mind my father’s admonition that one of the most essential of all requisites in character building is to have a sense of outrage at injustice. And let us not forget Emerson’s sagacious advice that “character is that which can do without success.” These thoughts were brought poignantly to mind upon reading the so-called reform ethics legislations being proposed. Once and for all, it gave us Texans a clear definition of ethics. We have long been searching for it and not it has finally come to pass. If a lobbyist takes a legislator to dinner and the bill is $49, that is ethical. If the bill is over $50, that is unethical. It looks like the difference between ethical and unethical behavior is $1.01. I am certain that all of us feel a debt of gratitude in this unraveling of the enigma of defining ethics which has escaped us since the beginning of time. Our legislation has now resolved the matter. The chimerical aspects of what we citizens are willing to accept in terms of the priorities that are addressed by our politicians brings to mind that we are getting the kind of government we deserve. Bertolt Brecht, in The Three Penny Opera, said, “You may proclaim, good sirs, your fine philosophy. But until you feed us, right and wrong can wait!” That appears to be the political approach to this all important question of ethics. I talk with politicians and say to them, “I don’t want an income tax any more than anyone else does, but you know we have to have one.” Their immediate response is, “Of course, we need an income tax. There is no other solution, but the people aren’t ready for it.” From my point of view, I can’t think of any more unethical behavior on the part of a politician than that attitude. Leaders do not seem to understand that people want to be lead more than leaders want to lead. In my opinion, the single greatest example of moral, ethical leadership was Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation. The people of the South were opposed as were many in the North. Abraham Lincoln did not feel, however, that wrong could be endured. He led and yes, even at the cost of a Civil War, ethics had to prevail. People responded to that leadership. Ethicswe talk about more prisons; I don’t quarrel that we may need them, but what I do question is the ethics of those who propose a patchwork solution without addressing the cause. You don’t need much more than a 4th or 5th grade education to know that illiteracy, ignorance and poverty are the greatest contributors to crime. I am looking for legislation from either the congress or the state legislature that seriously addresses those problems. We know several things for certainthe so-called liberal philosophy of giving without demanding involvement and commitment on the part of the receiver doesn’t work. We have tried that. We know, too, that the so-called conservative viewpoint of no new taxes; “I did it on my own and everyone else can do the same” is an attitude and rings true only in the heads of those with closed minds. There are some answers but they cost a lot of money. What is required is, if you please, a mantra a devotional incantation that involves thinking about serious reallocations of the state and/or nation’s assets. Instead of worrying what a program might cost, let’s be businesslike and recognize that every financial statement has assets and liabilities. A 10 percent reduction in crime would bring how much additional net income to the bottom line!! Answer: billions and billions! If we don’t address the problem of the ghetto, we accelerate almost at an exponential rate the magnitude of the problem. In the years to come, our children will regrettably be paying a price that cannot be ascertained. Meanwhile, I imagine you’ve noticed that our legislators voted themselves an exhorbitantly costly pension plan in the closing days of the session. “Some state lawmakers were surprised to learn the day after the session ended that they had approved expanding their retirement benefits” is the way one newspaper put it. And these folks, my dear readers, are the ones who supposedly are in charge of ethics. Ethics reform involves a lot more than a dollar and a penny. It is a travesty on the people of Texas that we have a special session to address the budget requirements. What have the legislators been. doing all this time? Worrying about a gun control bill? The truth is the so-called ethical reform bill got in the way of addressing the real, serious ethical problems which confront us. I close as I beganif you are worrying about ethics, you don’t have any! 18 JUNE 28, 1991
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