Ben Shapiro responded Tuesday to D.C. McAllister’s argument justifying voting for immoral people because they can accomplish good things. He wrote, “[McAllister’s] best argument is her first: there are character flaws that matter, and ones that matter less; that there are ends that justify certain means; that an evil outcome may be so immediate as to justify using bad men to stop it.” True.
Unfortunately, McAllister has put this type of moral decision in a box. She argued, “I’d rather have a [sexually immoral] hypocrite who will stop the murder of millions of babies than a virginal man who leads countless to the slaughter.” If that’s the last decision we’ll ever make as voters, and the outcomes were assured, of course we should vote for the hypocrite.
This is short-sighted argument that ignores what she later admits, but glosses over, in her piece: “These immoralities… could, through consequences, impact his public decision-making or influence, ripping from him his moral authority.” She also concedes that “we should want people in power and even our associations who are good, moral, and upstanding. We will all be better for it. This is logical and morally consistent.”
Yet McAllister dismisses this idea instead of really engaging with it, favoring a “but I like his politics better” approach. Severe moral failings can, however, have significant political, cultural, and moral repercussions. As David French put it recently, “‘Child-abusing senators against Roe’ strikes me as perhaps the worst possible message to a culture in desperate need of persuasion.”
We need to unbox the moral decisions voters face. Instead of merely arguing over whether the vote in itself is right or wrong, as people so often do, we must unpack both the long and short-term consequences of such votes. In short, we must decide whether character truly matters.
We Vote for People, and Some Are Better than Others
Now, many people sincerely believe Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore has been the victim of “fake news,” or that we cannot know for sure because he’s had no “due process” to help the truth emerge. That’s understandable. Yet considering how much power Congress and the presidency have, I think in the long run it is foolish not to err on the side of caution.
The character of the people we elect does directly affect their occupation. You are not just putting a nameplate on a desk or adding a tally to the ranks of Rs or Ds. Your vote puts a real person in a position of power. You’re putting all his personal baggage, faults, proclivities, and relationships into that office with him.
In the vast majority of elections, we don’t come across hard lines we all agree on that would make a candidate unfit for office (such as murder). We make judgments in shades of grey, and McAllister is right to emphasize this. Context is always relevant. There are always tradeoffs, so I can’t present an exhaustive list of acts or proclivities that would bar someone from being an elected public servant. And some people will follow through on their political promises despite their questionable reputations.
That said, too many people make reductive political calculations based on what candidates say they believe or how they’ve voted or ruled in the past while hardly taking personal character—who a person is and how he behaves—into account. While political records are eminently important, it is a grave mistake to neglect character.
Personal Character Does Matter for Public Action
Consider John Conyers and Al Franken. Democrats are supposedly the party “for women,” yet their behavior indicates many don’t truly value women. It’s not just about the distastefulness of hypocrisy. Can Democrat voters really trust these politicians to make good decisions on behalf of women? If you cannot respect the women you work with, how can you be expected to do the same for women across the country you’ve never met?
In fact, it makes perfect sense that the Democrat platform for women, including “sexual liberation” and abortion on demand, has been quite bad for women. Its devaluation of women and their unique biological capacities has promoted and enabled exactly this kind of repulsive behavior.
Or consider Moore. It’s not just “bad messaging” or “tainting the brand” for an alleged predator to be promoting conservative principles. Assume for a moment that he is guilty: can you trust someone like this—who refuses to come clean, apologize, show remorse, and make the case for how he’s changed—to “stand on principle” in office?
A graceful man who puts fellow citizens before himself would have quit his campaign and turned the race over to a less controversial figure, even if he were innocent. Instead, he has chosen to grasp at power, even if it ultimately costs his state and his country. Is this the character of the man you want in office?
Let’s go deeper for a moment, again assuming the reports are true. Is someone who spent his early 30s prowling malls to pick up high school girls, for whom there is fairly convincing testimony that he molested and assaulted two teenage girls, the sort of man you want in office? What do we make of this behavior? Is it simply “unusual,” or is it a strong, powerful man leveraging his influence on naive and vulnerable girls?
Is that the character of a man you’d put in the most powerful legislature in the world, which already suffers from a culture that permits and covers up sexual misconduct? Would you trust him to defend the vulnerable, a crucial responsibility of government? At the very least you must admit you trust him on abortion very much despite his alleged acts, because his behavior seems very much incongruent with caring for the young and vulnerable.
Private Actions Affect the Business of Governing
Not only does the quality of people you put in office affect their actions, but people with dirt on them can be manipulated. There’s always more dirt, and you can bet DC’s elite each have a little pile they’re saving for a rainy day. People of clean reputation are much freer to make decisions about what is best for their constituents.
Character matters pragmatically, not just in principle. If you fill the legislature with predators, shady deal-makers, or people who merely promise to follow through despite significant moral failings, just because “We need the votes,” you’re going to realize sooner or later (probably sooner) that you’re losing. It’s not just because swing voters will be disgusted with your brand, but because you’ve picked rotten people who will not govern justly and wisely.
The GOP holds the House, Senate, and presidency, and even without accused sitting members in their party (yet), they can’t even manage to defund Planned Parenthood. If we’ve chosen cowards or insincere representatives who can barely manage tax reform, imagine what happens when the party is hit with scandal over a seated member.
What’s more, consider if both sides approach elections this way. That’s what’s happening. Fill the seats of Congress with pervy salesmen and, instead of tax reform, you will have scandal after scandal headlining the 5 o’clock news, making headway on public business nearly impossible. Instead of conservative judge appointments, you will have corruption and arm-twisting and quid pro quo, and stalemates on a whole new level. Instead of diligent work at rolling back the administrative state, you’ll have round after round of golf and lavish jet rides across the country—with some bribery, plentiful harassment of female employees, and general sexual misconduct along the way.
Congress has paid out millions of taxpayer dollars in settlements to dozens, if not hundreds, of women who were not just victimized, but pressured into keeping the disgusting behavior of the most powerful elected body in the world a secret. Wait ‘til you throw even the shadow of a standard of decency out the window for the greater good of your tribe.
Base Voters Might Stay, But Swing Voters Won’t
Even if those critical judicial appointments are confirmed, if the Right sticks to “nothing matters except a candidate’s expressed political views,” they will turn the legislature to the Left, and the next round of appointments will go to them—because independent voters hate hypocrisy a lot more than they hate abortion. Conservatives of the party of “family values” fall harder and farther when they sin than liberal Democrats do.
So, even setting character aside, the myopic focus on one Senate seat in Alabama, as if that is the last Senate seat we will ever hold an election for, is quite foolish. Elections don’t happen in a vacuum. If Moore is seated, it’s likely the GOP will lose more than one seat elsewhere. And the cycle will continue, but with even more scandal and poorer-quality appointments.
If the tribal right decides that a politician’s personal life doesn’t matter for voting, why even voice support for those values at all? Are values only for the plebs? Is Congress on a higher plane of existence where the natural consequences of sin cannot touch them?
I’m not saying that only choir boys with a squeaky clean record should be elected. But the inconsistency between values for leaders and what the rest of us are supposed to live by will grow more and more stark. Without enforcing moral standards, the Right and Left will become just two sides of the same grimy coin. Who cares whether it comes up heads or tails; we’ll all pay the price in the long run.
Don’t Sacrifice the Long-Term for One Senate Seat
Instead of brushing character aside as being only distantly related to a candidate’s politics, we need to weigh character very carefully. We must decide if character is worth sacrificing for in the short term in order to gain in the long term. In other words: we need to decide if character is a principle and not just a resume accessory.
Apply this to Moore if you want. I would. The principle that character does matter should apply for people we judge, after weighing the evidence, to have done things that would disqualify them from being hired, or at least make you very uneasy about hiring them, in an ordinary occupation. And plenty of those types of people are seeking power.
That’s not the forward-looking attitude I’m seeing, though. In fact, I am quite distressed at the reactions from the Right, particularly evangelicals. Many Trump voters seem to believe the women and support Moore anyway, or say it doesn’t matter what’s true. It’s as if a stitch that helped to hold morality and politics together, however loosely, snapped somewhere along the line, and now the whole seam is more easily unraveled.
On a certain level, given the current climate of sexual assault allegations, the Never Trump argument for character is more persuasive now than it’s ever been. If you already knowingly put a sexual assailant in the White House, why not have another in the Senate?