The big news in Utah is the curiously quiet controversy surrounding Rep. Justin Miller’s apparent misappropriation (to use a nice word) of $30,000 (give or take a few thousand) from Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams’ campaign fund.
You can add my voice to those saying that Miller should resign. I’m sure some will say that we should all await the results of an investigation or more information, but, as was the case in the John Swallow matter, there’s a recorded conversation that tells you as much as you need to know to make your decision now. I think that the wrongdoing is clear, and the best thing Miller could do at this point, for himself, his family, his constituents, and his party, is to own the mistake, resign, and move on.
I want to use the Miller/McAdams situation as a jumping off point for a discussion about means and ends in politics.
I don’t pretend to know the specific reason why Miller took McAdams’ campaign funds. But whatever the reason was, he obviously thought that it was important enough to justify the theft (which I assume he always intended to repay at some point).
We’ve all made similar decisions (not stealing campaign funds), but rationalizing our actions in light of the goal.
The statement “The ends justify the means” is a curious one, especially when it comes to politics. It’s curious in the sense that, on the one hand, I’m not sure I know anyone (in or out of politics) who will admit that they believe it (outside of the most extraordinary situations). On the other hand, I know relatively few people–especially people in politics–who don’t act like they believe it.
People get into politics to get things done, right? To accomplish important goals. To achieve great things. Like saving the Constitution. Providing universal healthcare. Securing economic freedom. Eliminating the death penalty. Ensuring freedom of association. Maintaining the right to an abortion or protecting the right to life. This list of political goals is endless, and people get involved to accomplish one or more of them. I mean, what is there other than results?
But whether that’s what politics is really about all depends on your perspective–and the extent to which you can look beyond the instant moment and single issue.
Where there is no vision, the people perish.
But in politics, where there is no vision (i.e. perspective), results are often obtained…even if the earth is scorched in the process.
After all why does it matter, if you’ve accomplished your goal?
Because politics is actually about more than getting individual results. It’s about governing those aspects of societal interaction that we’ve delegated to our governments. And, though, by scorching earth, you can get an occasional result, you often end up hamstringing the ability of politicians to effectively govern.
And for that reason — despite (nearly) every fiber of my lawyerly being rebelling against the use of the word “never” — I want to suggest to you that, when it comes to politics, the right (to you) ends never justify using the wrong (to all) means.
And what are wrong and right means of getting things done?
Wrong: Dishonesty, in all its forms. Purposeful opaqueness. Sabotaging another’s personal or professional reputation to advance a goal. Vindictiveness. Refusal to listen to and consider others’ opinions. Conscious attempts at self-aggrandizement at the expense of others. Refusal to accept blame.
Right: Honesty. Transparency. Unfailing courtesy to friends and opponents alike. Humility. Refusal to hold a grudge. Introspection and a willingness to listen to and consider another’s opinion. Willingness to take credit where it is due but acknowledge the contributions of others. Willingness to admit your mistakes and own the consequences of your actions.
In politics, as in everything else in life, right means are not just an inconvenience to be brushed aside on the journey to a glorious end filled with liberty and justice for all. They are everything. They are what enable all of us insufferable individuals to live together and appreciate each other. Compared to the importance of that, the question of whether I pay for my own health insurance directly, with a government subsidy, via my taxes, or even principally with someone else’s taxes, fades into relative insignificance.
I don’t know what Miller did with the money he misappropriated from Mayor McAdams. Maybe he did something worthwhile with it. But I do know that he’s completely sabotaged his ability to govern.
And, unfortunately, this type of thing — wrongs means for right (to you) goals — happens all the time in politics. It sabotages our representatives’ ability to effectively govern.
Talk about winning a battle but losing the war…