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    « What is a “Real” Republican, Anyway? | Main | Why Bernie Sanders is a lot like Ted Cruz »

    More on the Sanders/Cruz Comparison (Fiasco Version)

    I generally don’t go out of my way to justify my essays, but sometimes I do such a poor job of making my point that I feel compelled to be more direct.

    The “poor job” in question was this post in which I compared Ted Cruz to Bernie Sanders with respect to one (just one!) quality, one I didn’t like.

    The backlash was horrid, but at least (to paraphrase an old joke) there was a lot of it. What became clear in reading the comments (and in trying to clarify my thoughts through my responses) was that I hadn’t done a good job of arguing the case. The particular combination of sarcasm, humor, and Cassandra-like whimpering thudded heavily to the ground.

    Okay. My apologies. As I writer I’m supposed to be better than that. You certainly don’t have to agree with what I write, but it’s my responsibility to make sure it’s at least understandable.

    So I’m taking another shot at it.

    In my mind, when someone judges an action taken by someone else, they fall into one of two camps (which I admittedly oversimplify):

    Those in the first camp subscribe to a philosophy called “consequentialism.” Consequentialism argues that the ends (generally) justify the means, and that the ethics of any particular behavior should be judged within an overriding concept of a “greater good.”

    Those in the second camp subscribe to a philosophy called “deontology”. Deontology argues that individual behaviors are independently ethical or unethical regardless of any real or perceived “greater good,” and that the ends (generally) do not justify the means.

    I fall into the second camp (but you’ve likely figured that out already, based on any number of previous posts, including this one about Oprah Winfrey.) I believe that there are ethical and unethical behaviors that strike to a moral center, and I believe such things are generally universal. The “greater good,” however, seems to me highly relativistic, and easily justified, and so I avoid the consequentialist approach. (The most famous proponent of consequentialist philosophy, by the way, was Machiavelli, who lays out the approach very neatly in The Prince.)

    One FB conversation I had regarding my Sanders/Cruz post dug rather deeply into the topic, and I offered this example. Ted Cruz believes, with all sincerity, that there should be a theological component to the way our country is governed. Most of my readers would vehemently disagree with him—as would I. (Ignore for the moment that his position is also unconstitutional!) Nevertheless, he believes it. He’s not disingenuous about it, and he firmly believes that having such a theological component in government is a “greater good.” Many millions of people agree with him. So what means should he and his supporters use to accomplish their greater good? What if a PAC raises money based on this desire for a limited theocracy? Is that ethical behavior? What if the money is “dark money,” provided by the Koch brothers? Should that be okay in service of their sincerely desired “greater good?”  Remember that we’re not talking about deception or insincerity. We know Cruz’s beliefs on this topic, and he is quite sincere about it. So how is his “greater good,” better or worse than yours?

    But the dark money is unethical by deontological principles, as is accepting money from the Koch brothers, who expect their donations to provide a certain type of candidate. We justifiably push back on those behaviors.

    But that’s just the tip of the problem. What I routinely see in responses to posts is that people are consequentialists when the consequence is one they support, and deontologists when the consequence is one they abhor.

    It’s just so easy to fall into that mental crevasse. People who agree with what Bernie Sanders is trying to do tend to respond as consequentialists—the means justify the ends. These same people disagree with what Ted Cruz is trying to do, and so respond to him as deontologists, dissecting and attacking each individual behavior of Cruz’s as unethical.

    What I believe we all need to admit is how we so easily play these mental games with ourselves. As many of you pointed out in your comments, Bernie Sanders did exactly that—he admitted that he was declaring as a Democrat because it was the only way he could have an impact. That statement alone tells me that he understands he’s bent his own ethics, just a tiny bit, and if the world were perfect (or at least parliamentarian!) he wouldn’t have to run as a Democrat—he could keep his time-worn (I).

    The only comparison I made between Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders was to say that they were both taking a path that represented a consequentialist view. In Cruz’s mind it’s okay to run as a Republican because if the Tea Party broke off it would splinter the votes. Bernie has come to the same conclusion with respect to the Democrat’s voting bloc. As someone who views things deontologically, I find the ethics questionable.

    Hope that explains my point. But just in case, let me add this afternote:

    I DO NOT like Ted Cruz; he represents everything I rail against, and he’s one of the key players in the unrelenting push to supplant the mainstream GOP with extremists. Cruz is not a conservative, and he’s not a Republican by any definition I want to use.

    On the other hand, I DO rather like Bernie Sanders (though not a lot of his positions), and I find him to be generally honest and clear-spoken. Having said that, I would have liked to have seen him attempt a third-party bid. Someone has to start a serious effort sometime soon if anything systemic is ever going to change….


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    Reader Comments (14)

    I got what you were going on about the first time, but I'm glad you chose to clarify it. Perhaps those who failed to see your point earlier will now do so.

    May 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

    I also appreciate the Clarification, Greatly.
    One point I would Raise:

    What you term “consequentialism" could also be called "pragmatism"
    What you term “deontology” could also be termed "absolutism".
    (there is another word, here: but I cannot bring it to mind.
    It isn't germaine to the Point I wish to make: 'absolutism' will suffice.)

    The Point I wish to make: an unyielding dedication to deontology,
    a commitment to a philosophical Platonic Ideal?
    This can also be labeled, in its extreme form: "Fanaticism".
    This is the realm of the uncompromising "religious" principle.

    A dedication to an unyielding Philosophical Truism
    without modifying it based on Real World practical concerns and consequences
    is exactly why the fanaticism of
    the Tea Party, the hard core communist, and the ayn-randian version of Libertarianism
    are so toxic.

    Politics can be termed
    "The Gentle Art of Compromise".
    Without an occasional concession to an opposing philosophical view
    (or more correctly: a -group of people who _hold_ that view) There is no Politics.
    Only Demagoguery.

    May 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterThomas Diener

    I also understood what you said the first time and this clarification helps. However, I would argue that Cruz wants to change a basic tenet of how our government was set up - separation of church and state - (among other issues that make me question this one) and is running as a Republican. Sanders, a self-described socialist does not belong to any official socialist party and his platform is left of center Democratic, not Socialist (with a big S) and he is not attempting to dismantle any major component of the current system based on a political or religious doctrine.

    May 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commenteralex202

    It should be noted that Bernie can keep the (I) after his name. AFAIK, he isn't joining the party; he's just running to secure the party's nomination. Unless the party has a rule that you have to be a member to be nominated, I don't see any reason he can't remain independent.

    May 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPowers

    Yes, pragmatism is the word I would use. And I don't see it as any kind of intellectual dishonesty on Bernie's part. One big difference is that Ted Cruz really thinks he can be elected, I don't think Bernie really expects to get elected. I think he just wants a true progressive voice to heard. Running as an Independent would severely limit his voice and the only thing his candidacy would do is split the vote among Democrats. By running as a Democrat, Sanders will have a better chance at at least influencing the Democratic platform to include more progressive views. As an Independent, many of his views would go unheard by much of the public. By getting access to the Democratic debates, he will be heard by a much bigger base.

    May 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJim W.

    I think your analysis misses the mark, ignoring that historically both major parties have been broad coalitions, not ideological parties in the fashion of parties in a parliamentary system. A necessity in a two party system. The dominance of a single ideology in the Republican party for the last twenty years us the cause of much of our current legislative disfunction. Bernie's run is a positive step to ensure working class interests continue to have a voice in the Democratic party.

    May 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Noel

    Excellent expansion of your original point, which I must admit was not entirely clear to me. It seems to me that, in the case of Bernie Sanders, the problem is not about political dishonesty, but about the difficulty of a third party trying to succeed in a rigid two party system. He's been perfectly honest about his reasoning here, and even clarifies his willingness to support "the other democrat" if he loses the primary election to her. He appears to make every effort not to sacrifice his Independent principals in doing so. Unlike you, I don't think Ted Cruz is being entirely open and honest about his reasons for running as a Republican candidate in the primary election. Call me pessimistic, but I think Ted Cruz is a total fake, a smarmy opportunist who wants to be president so badly that he is pandering to the Christian conservatives who, rightly or wrongly, feel so disenfranchised at this point in the history of our country that they will throw in with ANYBODY who isn't afraid to use the words "God" and "faith" in their political platform. In the final analysis, I think Bernie Sanders is that rarity, an honest politician willing to fight the good fight for what he honestly believes in, while Ted Cruz is a false prophet who will do just about anything to reach the goal of President of the United States, including sell his soul to the Koch brothers. May the curse of Mary Malone and her nine blind illegitimate children chase him so far over the hills of Damnation that the Lord himself can't find him with a telescope......

    May 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMLT

    We get your point, Michael, and I am also disappointed that Bernie ran as a Democrat instead of an independent candidate. I am not disappointed in him, however, but rather in a system that makes this necessary.
    Running as an independent in the US is like stepping into a boxing ring with one arm tied behind your back. You might win, with a tremendous amount of effort and luck, but you are giving away every advantage to your opponent. Getting into a presidential debate would be an achievement for an independent, let alone getting your message out in any other way.

    I'm not a believer of the slippery slope, honestly. If Bernie has to bend a little in order to have a chance, I don't think this means he will keep deviating further and further from his principles. He has a core of values that I am convinced he wouldn't compromise. And unlike Cruz, those values don't lead to an apocalyptic wasteland, so I am comfortable with Bernie getting muddied in the trenches if it means we actually get a shot at fixing this country.

    May 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterElie

    Wow, harsh critics in that first article.
    I think I see where you're coming from and I guess I agree. Considering how many times I hear from people that "both parties are bad", this just might be the opportunity to run as an (I) to differentiate from the herd(s). Bernie has name recognition, has been an open and outspoken critic when necessary, and generally seems to have practical solutions to some chronic problems. He just might have a fighting chance by making himself stand out from the same old/same old...

    May 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJMA

    "As I writer I’m supposed to be better than that." How much are you getting paid to put this mess online?

    May 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterThe_Pyat

    I wonder if your "consequentialist/deontolotist" dichotomy isn't a bit constraining. Seems that one could argue for a set of deontological rules based on their consequences. Frankly, if you don't accept the "Ten Commandments" route to ethics, you're forced to conclude that the ethics and morality we've received from previous generations are the ones that worked well for the societies that generated (or modified) them, which is....well, a consequence. So maybe the most sensible position is to be proximally deontological but ultimately consequentialist?

    May 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDuncan Parks

    I see your point and think its admirable that you tried to set the record straight, but comparing Bernie to Ted? c'mon, this is so wrong on so many levels... "If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging." (Will Rogers)

    May 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterC.E.N

    I will be honest, when I read the first article, I did not ever realize you wrote it until after I posted a rather snarky Facebook comment. After I realized it was you, I felt like a heal, but I did not retract said comment because, lets face it, it was not a good essay. This clears up my main question, which was, "How are Sanders and Cruz alike?". Your points make sense now and whether or not I completely agree is irrelevant. Thank you Michael, for making the points you did in this follow up piece. I am not a professional writer, but sometimes my state of mind influences things that I do write. I sense this may have been itching at your craw and needed to come out. Don't forget the count to ten rule when something is one your mind.

    May 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSean D.

    Thanks, Sean. I agree the first essay shouldn't have made it past the first draft--Sadder still is that it went through 4 drafts and was still pretty pathetic.....

    May 7, 2015 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

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