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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Topeka Consideration: Costs, Benefits and Moral Decision-Making

It's been a a bit over a week since the Values Voters Summit ended and, again, the right wing of our country has been able to use the words Values and Morals without challenge by main stream media. Since the 1980's it has been a foregone conclusion that those people who rate morals and values as a priority in selecting a candidate will vote Republican.

They claim morality and values and we shy away from playing ball on their field so historically, they've won the debate by forfeit. This has remained true even as Republican policies and rhetoric have grown so venal that they have had to redefine Jesus in order to maintain their conceit as Christians.

Ironically, the Values Voter Summit took place the same week that the Topeka City Council, facing a dwindling budget which was going to force them to choose between street maintenance and court costs, decriminalized domestic violence along with some other misdemeanors in order to shift enforcement costs to the county and state.

The City Council's argument was simple: We need to cut 10% more from our current budget and misdemeanor courts are our biggest expense. Our biggest expense in the misdemeanor courts are the domestic violence prosecutions, so we can save the most money by decriminalizing them and letting the state and county take over.

Most of us were aghast when they did this -- we were appalled at the total lack of regard for the potential costs to society if domestic violence were deemed non-criminal. Think of the murders, the felony beatings, the damaged women, the hospital expenses, the destroyed lives. How could they not consider the consequences?!

They did consider the consequences. Here they are:

In the relationship between cities and counties, the cities handle misdemeanors and the county system handles felonies. If the city decriminalizes misdemeanor domestic violence and a woman is killed because of it, that's a county expense. If a victim is sent to the hospital and has no insurance, that's a county expense. If a child ends up in protective services that's, you guessed it, a county expense.

The Topeka City council made a rational decision.

Whenever any of us make a decision we tally up the costs and the benefits before acting. We weigh the impact of our choice in terms of time, money, happiness and lost opportunities and make our decision in favor of the preponderance of the evidence we've considered. This is exactly what the Topeka City Council did.

Pro: Reduced cost
Pro: No new taxes
Pro: No loss of other services
Con: Women and children will die
Con: People might think we're assholes

They went with pro because they value money more than people. And they've backtracked this decision not because of the potential damage it could do, but because too many people thought they were assholes.

They aren't alone, though. More abstractly, killing the jobs bill, defunding NPR, defunding women's health, flat taxes, 9-9-9 plans, campaigning against national health care, destroying the regulatory machinery, defunding schools, defunding social services, cutting medicaid, raising the retirement age, and privatizing social security are also examples of exempting morality from decision-making.

Without morality, all a person can value is personal time, money, and satisfaction which means too often our national decision-makers make decisions solely based on their own self-interest. Getting money and getting re-elected are the sole considerations.

In response to all of this, we make snarky remarks and point out the hypocricy of Republicans wearing the dual mantles of Values Voter and Moral Majority, but we need to stop that.

We need to be come the Moral Majority of Values Voters who loudly and enthusiastically incorporate values and morality into our decisions, into our rhetoric, and into our platforms. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is also our birthright as liberals.

As we saw in the reaction against the Topeka consideration, and as we are seeing on Wall Street and in civic plazas around the nation, moral outrage that is founded in true morality is a more powerful tool than base self-interest.

But if you don't believe me, just ask a Republican:

"A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both."


~Dwight D. Eisenhower, first inaugural address, 20 January 1953

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