In public service, there are few things as damning as ‘ends justify the means’ thinking. During the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, ‘ends justify the means’ political philosophy and doctrine created ‘rationale’ for all sorts of terrible practices and activities. By contrast, US political leaders have long been admired for sometimes accepting a degree of political damage for standing on principle. For rejecting the essential immorality of ‘ends justify the means.’
In one obvious case of honor over politics, John McCain corrected a woman who wrongly labeled Obama a ‘Muslim.’ In another, McCain attempted to reduce the kinds of ugly political advertising we’ve seen this campaign by supporting a campaign finance reform law on a bipartisan basis. An effort that was, ironically, largely overturned by the Citizen’s United Decision of the Supreme Court. In yet another, Obama hung the political capital of his entire presidency on an effort to make medical care more affordable, to expand access, and in doing so, took on some seriously powerful special interests who, to this day, have fought to demonize him.
Political integrity and avoidance of ‘ends justify the means’ thinking is a virtue in American politics that has, historically, manifest on both sides of the isle. And it is this virtue that former adviser to George Romney, Walt DeVries, so admired in the leader and public servant he worked with for 7 years.
In fact, it would be difficult not to admire the work of Romney’s father. George labored to build an American company that provided good paying jobs for regular Americans, that contributed to the American economy, and that provided a valuable product. George was in the business of making things. And in his transition to public service, George Romney also stood on principle, holding consistent positions — whether they were popular or not. In particular, George Romney campaigned for an income tax in Michigan, a political position that would, almost certainly, eject him from the republican party today.
This is in direct contrast to Mitt, who has profited from work, not done in America, not creating items of value for Americans, and not sustaining or creating good, well-paying jobs, but from reducing the wages of American workers and in shipping high-value American industries, like Sensata, to foreign shores where sweat-shop workers are paid only a pittance. This is in direct contrast to Mitt who asks for the wealthy to pay less in taxes and for the poor and middle class to bear a greater burden. And this is in direct contrast to the Mitt Romney who has run a political campaign that has contradicted itself, almost daily, on every issue.
According to DeVries:
Mitt Romney and the people around him see campaigns as television marketing and voters as targets to be manipulated. Voters, they believe, make up their minds late and will be swayed with saturation television advertising. The campaign managers seek — daily it seems — for a magic bullet to force on the electorate that will move undecided and weak voters to Romney. Policy papers, positions are rare and short on content and meaning.
I’ve tried to track Mitt Romney’s shifts — some 180 degrees others 360 — on key issues during the campaign. I’ve stopped at 30: abortion, stem-cell research; climate change and global warming; campaign finance; and equal pay for women are just a few.
This is damning critique from a former adviser to George Romney, who held the man in such high opinion for his ability to stand on principle and for the integrity of his character. And it shines a glaring light of contrast on Mitt’s own deep lack of integrity. His willingness to say or do anything that is, first and foremost, self-serving.
In business activity, such behavior is harmful enough. But when a person elected to public office acts in so self-serving a fashion, the effect can be devastating. In place after place around the world we have seen the dramatic failure of ‘ends justify the means’ thinking — in both business and government. ‘Ends justify the means’ results in systems that are not sustainable long-term. It is predatory and by virtue of its nature creates enemies. Though its initial grasping may result in success short-term, it plants the seeds for a dramatic long-term failure. We who have witnessed the tragedies — both in life and in the Greek epics — know this. Hubris, which is chained to ‘ends justify the means’ like a drowning man to a lead weight, is bound for a plunge.
The rise and fall of America may well be characterized in the contrast of these two men — father to son. One who stood on principle, the other enslaved by ‘ends justify the means.’ Providence grant we are spared a Romney Presidency and the risk of witnessing just such a precipitous fall from grace.