In the world of politics, most things are the opposite of what they seem. When politicians use cheap and dirty PR stunts to trick the media into to the narrative that they’re tough straight-shooters, they’re being the opposite of genuinely tough straight-shooters who actually stick to their principles no matter how great a PR disaster they’re creating for their Olivia Pope handlers and how merciless a pounding they’re receiving from that class of blabbering idiots known as pundits. One of the most disastrous acts of political posturing in recent history has been the use of torture as part of the war on terror in order to give politicians a means of showing that they were taking terrorism “seriously.” Noah Millman at the American Conservative elaborates:
Willingness to torture became, first within elite government and opinion-making circles, then in the culture generally, and finally as a partisan GOP talking point, a litmus test of seriousness with respect to the fight against terrorism. That – proving one’s seriousness in the fight – was its primary purpose from the beginning, in my view. It was only secondarily about extracting intelligence… It was our psychological security blanket, our best evidence that we were “all-in” in this war, the thing that proved to us that we were fierce enough to win.
Daniel Larison then builds on Millman’s commentary by pointing out the irony that this posturing of “seriousness” through torture is the ultimate display of moral unseriousness:
Because of the bias in our debates in favor of hard-line policies, preventive war and torture not only become acceptable “options” worth considering, but they have often been treated as possessing the quality–seriousness–that they most lack. The belief that a government is entitled to invade a foreign country and destroy its government on the off chance that the latter might one day pose a threat is an outstanding example of something that is morally unserious. That is, it reveals the absence or the rejection of careful moral reasoning. Likewise, believing that a government should ever be allowed to torture people is the opposite of what comes from serious moral reflection.
I would simply add that there are so many other “tough guy” solutions to problems in our world that are morally unserious precisely because they’re no more than shallow posturing tactics for exuding “seriousness.” Another great example is the quagmire of our national immigration debate. Right now most undocumented immigrants are part of the giant 10+ million job blue-collar independent contractor labor sector. The reason why they’re undocumented is because there is no legal way to migrate to this country and work as a blue collar independent contractor. We simply don’t have a visa for it. So the practical solution would be to create a blue-collar independent contractor visa with which workers could seasonally migrate to the United States for work and retain their residences in their home countries where their families could live for incredibly cheaper. This would dramatically reduce the number of people migrating to the United States permanently. Why can’t we do it? Because it would be “rewarding lawbreakers,” according to the politicians who need to show that they take breaking the law “seriously” but don’t have any interest in finding practical solutions that address the problem.
Similarly morally unserious politics are exemplified in the policies of our criminal justice system. Instead of trying to figure out on a practical level how to reduce recidivism and make correctional facilities into places of actual social rehabilitation, our politicians are more interested in showing their constituents that they take crime “seriously” by putting mandatory minimum sentences on drug crimes, taking away ex-felons’ rights to vote, and other policies that do nothing to address the problems that cause crime, but rather give politicians the means to show that they’re not “softies.”
There are so many other issues we could talk about where politicians choose the posturing of “seriousness” over genuinely thoughtful moral seriousness. We could talk about climate change, health care, child welfare, public schools, taxes, guns, and just about every other issue. So kudos to the American Conservative for being conservatives with enough integrity to call out morally unserious faux “seriousness” among politicians who love nothing more than dishing out the red meat to their rabid base.