Moral cowardice vs. strength of conviction

Josh Marshall on the Deadeye Dick flap

…all available evidence suggests that the Mr. Cheney is a man of deep moral cowardice. Makes a mistake and shoots his friend; blames the friend. Only he won’t do it directly. So he gets underlings to do it for him. Forced to speak out publicly, he appears before a ringer-journalist guaranteed not to press uncomfortable questions.
It’s all of a piece with the man’s record. He’s afraid of accountability. That’s why he’s such a fan of self-protecting secrecy. That’s why he’s big on smearing government whistle-blowers. It’s really just two sides of the same coin. He’s afraid of accountability. It’s the same reason why he’s such a notorious prevaricator — lies to avoid accountability.
These are all the hallmarks of a moral coward.

Last Monday, Jen and I caught sometimes-progressive Clinton Boom era economist Gene Sperling at the Commonwealth Club. He gave a good talk, and I gave him a copy of the high road. But there was one point that rang a little hollow: someone asked about the failure of the Clinton administration to successfully negotiate labor and environmental agreements into their trade agreements. His answer centered on the developing countries feeling that the US is too heavy-handed in it’s approach, whether it’s trade or our militarism. A friend pointed out that this an obvious and transparent dodge: surely their inability to negotiate these had nothing at all to do with multinational corporate campaign contributor’s wishes to avoid these sorts of regulations. Mmhmm.
But giving Mr Sperling the benefit of the doubt and taking his point at face value, the question this raises is about the strength of our convictions. If the leaders of the United States can’t level with other countries and say, look, we want you to develop your internal markets and economies and not screw up your environment so that you won’t have massive health and emigration problems ten years from now, that isn’t leadership. Regardless of where the pressure was coming from, the only right answer would have been to make the case for these kinds of policies and use the power of our tremendous consumer market to move things in the right direction. Markets are tools, not ends in themselves.
The Vice President’s behavior is both far more personally repulsive and an example of the much broader, deeper and scarier problems with this adminstration than any Mr Sperling’s answer, and oddly enough, his answer to my question (“this is great, but how do we move this agenda?”) was excellent and focused on exactly this issue; he talked movingly and at length about the economic vision that President Clinton had been developing for decades before he was elected to run the country. Strength of conviction and moral cowardice lie along the same axis and play out in our every day decisions. We’ve somehow gone from “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man” to “the guy stepped in front of the barrel of my gun.”