On Morning Joe today, although the crew focused mainly on Republican gaffes in the debate and the race going into 2012, they also condemned the Univeristy of Pennsylvania's handling of the child abuse scandal involving a former coach. I couldn't help but to think about a connecting thread throughout the discussions. One of the most troubling aspects of the University scandal is the reaction of the students, rioting when they heard Joe Paterno has been dismissed. In a society which is taught that ideas and principles lead to close-mindedness, extremism and lack of practical problem solving, Paterno and the powers that be at the University obviously felt that protecting the institution was more important than summoning the courage to confront a predator of children and to seek justice for the innocent and vulnerable. The students obviously believe that the personality of Paterno is more important than justice and retribution. The set of ideas which teaches people to stand on certain principles, even in the face of power or popularity, have been marginalized in a society of moral relativity, popularity contests, power-battles, political correctness, group-think and a superficial embrace of openmindedness. This is the easy case -- all people with a conscience can look at the Pa. case and feel a deep sense of horror.
What's more difficult to realize is how the anti-ideology mindset has infected the political realm and spilled over into society at large. The Morning Joe crew at first expressed sympathy for Rick Perry's implosion on stage when during the debate he forgot one of the government departments he would eliminate, but, then several guests, such a David Gregory and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, said that his lapse in memory shows a lack of conviction regarding core values, and that his limited government stance must be more show than a deeply held value. Gregory and Schultz are usually among those who criticize "ideologues" for their extremism, their closeminded refusal to compromise and their lack of pragmatism.
During the debate, Mitt Romney was shown in a clip defending charges that he's a flip-flopper on issues, and he made his defense by claiming that Obama is the real flip-flopper. But if anti-ideology is a political value, then flip-flopping should be a value. The pragmatic politician is expected to flip and flop, if it's necessary to "get things done". So which is it? Should we hold and defend principles, or should we act with ad hoc expediency depending on the issue right in front of us? Ideas have power, and the constant denigration of ideology is basically a denigration of integrity when those who remain true to their principles, like Ron Paul, are criticzed as extreme kooks, and these ideas have consequences.
Perhaps Morning Joe can help reassess this denigration of ideology rather than promote anti-ideology, because if the 28 year old at the University of PA had been taught to defend principles and truly understand the difference between right and wrong, he would have stopped the coach from preying on innocent children, and when Paterno failed to follow through, perhaps the whole sordid mess would have been uncovered and justice served for the victims who have no power.
Perhaps if ideology is not denigrated we can get presidential candiates who aren't picked because they project the right image, but because they possess integrity and substance. We're told over and over by the political class that political strategy and images are important, and that if you speak straightforwardly and hold your position based on solid principles that you'll be framed as extremist and become unelectable. Yet, the confusion is palpable when the consequences of anti-ideology are revealed and we see the flip-flopping, lack of conviction, the deification of personalities over what's right, and then we want integrity and courage. Perhaps we all need to decide what's important rather than searching for what's popular and convenient.