The Bleeding Heart Question

Cyril Burchenal, Columnist

Would you, the informed reader, say that political divide is largely a moral issue? I’d say so. In daily conversation it seems that a great deal of the conversation is based upon what any given person believes is ‘moral.’ As such, it seems that the moral high ground has become some magical platform upon which everyone may stand simultaneously.

That being said, ‘bleeding heart liberal’ is as common a pejorative term for Democrats as can be found in common parlance. The point of the insult is to denigrate liberals for their strong moral code. The term places sympathy in a negative context, and is dismissive of the idea of emotionally motivated stances. This designation always confused me. Surely basing an opinion on morals is a good thing. What else could be a substitute? The obvious answer is facts.

If our public policies are not ethical, then they must be alternatively pragmatic. If a choice is not moral, then it should at least be factual, right? I believe yes, but that leads to the impossible choice between ethics or facts. History is full of morally horrible choices that were good for the people making them. Andrew Jackson’s removal of the Cherokee was as morally reprehensible an act as the U.S. could ever undertake, but was then a smart decision. Contrarily, the passage of the 18th Amendment and prohibition was a morally good choice on the part of the U.S. government, but all the same a disaster.

Is it better to pragmatic or ethical in decision making?

In public debate on large policy topics, camps are mostly in this binary system and both major political groups are seen self-segregating. Take American foreign policy as an example of ethics versus morals. American support of Israel is largely based on principle and cultural ties between American and Israeli Jews. This relationship has proved to be a divisive one, and has historically compromised relations with Arab nations such as Iraq.

The American relationship with Saudi Arabia is, contrarily, a solely pragmatic choice. The assertion of American influence over a regional power is an important prospect in containing Iran, the U.S. regional adversary. Additionally, the U.S. gets eight percent of its oil from Saudi Arabia. The religious and monarchical nature of Saudi Arabia is directly contrary to the founding principles of the U.S., but the relationship is lucrative for the United States.

An ideal policy should be both moral and pragmatic, and is hopefully at least one of those two. This is worth noting because it seems as though ethical arguments are common, while factual arguments relatively uncommon. Ethical arguments are perhaps more common because they are easier to make, which does not invalidate them. Ethics and logic aren’t diametrically opposed, but can often clash. Conversation on politics especially must be more factual, as only pragmatic critiques can harm a morally bankrupt institution.