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Stephen Gottlieb: Forcing Us To Live In An Immoral World

We are increasingly being forced to live in an immoral world. The radical wrong has hijacked the very idea of morality so that it no longer has anything to do with helping our neighbor. We're not supposed to lift a collective finger for our fallen fellow citizens. Nothing for the unemployed, nothing for people who have been defrauded out of their homes, nothing for unions, and no taxes from those who benefit most from America's wealth – and who are coincidentally disinvesting in America.

Instead we are being asked to bankroll public services on gambling revenue, based on our public support for yet another addiction that does and will destroy people and families. The bible says "lead me not into the paths of temptation." But we now compete for casinos in our midst. This is moral? Encouraging gambling certainly does not mesh with traditional conservative morality, and financing government at the cost of the social dislocation gambling causes doesn’t mesh with liberal morality.

What we are being pushed to accept instead is a radical libertarian world in which nothing counts but self-interest. I can't find anything moral in that world. The really moral among us are decent, caring people who want to make life better when we can.

This false idea of liberty as if no one else matters affects much of our politics. It affects our handling of the economy and our effort to get out of the recession because the what’s in it for me attitude recoils at the possibility of helping anyone else even though it would heal the economy. It affects our handling of the environment and our effort to deal with global climate change because it means we would have to sacrifice for our children and other people’s children so the world would continue to be livable. It affects our gun laws and the effort to make the streets safe because it means gun lovers can’t just dominate everyone with weapons at their sides or in their arms. It affects our dismantling of the safety net for ordinary folk, because some of the beneficiaries might not be from the kind of good old stock they care about.

And it’s all done in the false name of morality, claiming that morality in public life is about self-reliance and self-restraint, and only those, thus excusing themselves from our share of the nation’s burdens.

This highjacking of so-called morality by the radical wrong, their supporters who have gerrymandered us so they could take over Congress, and the Republican Court that gerrymanders political financing and election laws for the advantage of their Republican patrons without so much as blushing, have left us with only the shell of the country we love. They have compromised our future by attacking all the ways that by common sacrifice we all built a great country. But we didn't build it for John Roberts and the Koch brothers – we built it for all of us. As Woody Guthrie wrote, "This land is my land, this land is your land."

And the truly decent among us, unlike the U.S. Supreme Court majority, want to share it.

Steve Gottlieb is Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School and author of Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America. He has served on the Board of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and in the US Peace Corps in Iran.


The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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