Politics, Ethics, and the Idiot Problem

Kim Lehman, who is one of Iowa’s two national Republican Committee members, responded to Politico’s report last week about the large and, oddly, increasing number of Americans who believe that President Obama is a Muslim, with this tweet:

“@politico You’re funny. They must pay you a lot to protect Obama. BTW, he personally told the muslims that he is a muslim. Read his lips.

When Lehman was asked by the Des Moines Register what speech she was referring to, she cited an Obama speech in Cairo last summer in which he reached out to Muslims “to seek a new beginning.” In that speech, Obama made no comment about being Muslim. In fact, he said he was a  a Christian, saying,

“…Now part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I’m a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and at the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith. As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam.”

Never mind that, Lehman said; the speech still “just had the appearance that he was aligning himself with the Muslims.”

So a speech in which President Obama proclaims himself a Christian before an audience that would love him to declare he is a Muslim constitutes, to Lehman, an admission that he is a Muslim. She isn’t trying to fool anyone or lie about it: this is what she appears to believe. Therefore, she is almost certainly not unethical or dishonest.

She’s an idiot.

This is a real problem in ethics, because to be identified as unethical, you have to be capable of performing the cognitive analysis that would show you are doing wrong. It is not a lie to say what you believe to be true, even if what you believe has no basis in reasoning or fact. Even perpetrating what would be an outrageous and unfair misrepresentation coming from, say, Rush Limbaugh—who knows Obama isn’t a Muslim but calls him “Imam Obama,” fully aware that it feeds the misconceptions of people like Kim Lehman—isn’t unethical from someone like  Ms. Lehman, whose problem isn’t ethics, but logic. (Note: Not all idiots believe Obama is a Muslim, and not all people who believe Obama is a Muslim are idiots; for example, there are strict Muslims who believe Obama is a Muslim because according to Muslim law, if you are born a Muslim—and Obama was—there’s no way to be anything else.)

Unethical people can change if they want to, and many do. Idiots, unfortunately, cannot change the characteristic that leads causes them to do hurtful things. Ethics comes in with the responsibility of groups, organizations, the electorate and political parties not to give authority to idiots, or put them in positions where their cognitive deficiencies can mislead others. In a previous post, I argued that unethical politicians should have to be dumb too, so they would be incapable of fooling anyone into thinking they were trustworthy. If a politician is really dumb, however, the concept of ethics begins to lose all meaning. Either a lack of ethics or a lack of brain matter should disqualify an individual for public service.

One thought on “Politics, Ethics, and the Idiot Problem

  1. Like they say, there are idiots smart enough to kn0w they’re idiots, and then there are idiots dumb enough to think they’re geniuses. But then again, a lack of smarts or ethics both derive from something missing upstairs; Lehman genuinely thinks she’s correct, Mao genuinely thought he was leading China to utopia.

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