Booing the Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. An important rule to live by. So is this corollary: Friends don’t let friends watch presidential primary debates.

I think the clip at this link is a safe dose and I have survived it myself or I would not urge it on others.

I recommend it to you only because I believe it is important for us to stop and ask what it means for a group of people who tend to promote both Christianity and the combination of Christianity with politics to have just booed the golden rule.

In this video Congressman Ron Paul describes Pakistan as a sovereign nation and suggests that the United States should not be bombing it. Paul also proposes that there should have been some attempt to capture Osama bin Laden rather than murdering him. Paul promotes the rule of law and goes so far as to advocate that the United States only fight wars that have been declared by Congress (a standard that would eliminate the past 70 years’ worth of wars). To that the response is cheering from at least some section of the audience.

Then Newt Gingrich says that the proper thing to do with enemies is "Kill them." That, of course, receives ecstatic applause.

What could Paul say in response? He could have quoted almost anything Jesus Christ or Ronald Reagan or Ayn Rand had ever said and been booed for it. He chose a response that further guaranteed booing: he opposed U.S. exceptionalism. He suggested that other nations might merit the same respect as our own. If another nation were doing to ours what we do to others, we wouldn’t like it, Paul pointed out. Perhaps we should follow the golden rule, he said. And he was booed for that.

And yet Paul goes on to speak against launching a war on Iran, and in support of ending our current wars; and some group of people –” not necessarily, but possibly, some of the same individuals who had just been booing –” start cheering instead.

I don’t think the audience members, by and large, dislike the golden rule in personal relations. And I don’t think they dislike peace. They seem neutral or positive toward demanding an end to wars and avoidance of more wars. What they object to is the notion that national enemies deserve any respect. They are fiercely opposed to loving national enemies, much less turning the nation’s other cheek. But they’d be totally fine with avoiding wars if uppity foreign nations agreed to stay in their place.

People may all have value, in this non-world-view, but only one nation has value, and its value is supreme. Fall under suspicion of hostility toward the United States, and the proper treatment for you is murder. Belong to a nation other than the United States, and the significance of losing your life as collateral damage is negligible.

Now, we do erroneously apply lessons from personal relations to politics all the time. We try to relate to elected officials as friends rather than constituents. We imagine politicians driven by emotions and social relations when they are clearly driven by financial bribery or partisan pressure.

But I don’t think applying the golden rule to international relations involves this sort of mistake. Paul is not here analyzing what drives government officials, but rather proposing what ought to. It’s hard to argue that the golden rule ought not to guide our collective behavior toward other populations. That is to say, if we had a government that represented our wishes, we ought not to wish for it to treat large numbers of foreign people in ways that we would not like foreign nations to treat us. This is a point that Paul has made more powerfully in this advertisement.

The golden rule in foreign relations conflicts dramatically with almost everything about U.S. foreign policy from the Monroe Doctrine down through the Carter Doctrine and right up to our kinetic overseas contingency operations, extraordinary renditions, indefinite detentions, enhanced interrogations, surgical strikes, and all the other weasel words we use to mean the kidnapping, imprisonment, torture, and murder of human beings. But that doesn’t prove the golden rule is wrong. On the contrary, it proves our foreign policy is wrong.

Our military is in some 150 other countries. We would never stand for another military in our country. Therefore, we should get out of everybody else’s.

We bomb and invade and occupy nations we falsely accuse of possessing weapons. We would never stand for being bombed and invaded and occupied even though we really have those weapons. Therefore we should stop doing that to other nations.

We rain hell from the sky on families to protect women’s rights and spread freedom. But if our roofs were being blown off, and our limbs as well, we would not feel we had gained any rights or freedom. Therefore we should stop treating war as an acceptable instrument of national policy.

The golden rule is, in fact, an excellent guide to foreign policy. It even goes places Ron Paul would not. If we were starving or struggling to make loan payments to international sharks or finding it impossible to compete against subsidized foreign goods while forbidden to invest in our own products, we would appreciate some relief from any nation willing to offer it. The problem is not foreign aid or international involvement. The problem is pushing instruments of death on the rest of the world’s peoples because an elite at home and abroad profits from weapons sales. The problem is imposing our will by force and the threat of force on people who are not threatening us.

The golden rule is of less help in shaping domestic policy, in which there is not a domestic we and a foreign they, and on which agreement among the domestic us is often more divided. While virtually all of us would prefer not to be bombed, not all of us favor creating a decent civilized healthcare system or education or energy system or retirement security. Ron Paul favors the position of whoever backs doing nothing, no matter how large the majority of the people who prefer to jointly create something that makes each of them better off. Where there is not unanimity, you have to violate the golden rule in favor of majority rule with protections for individuals. But on foreign policy there is unanimity. None of us want a Chinese military base in Texas. Therefore we should stop building them around the borders of China.

There is another rule I would much rather break than the golden rule. It is the rule that says that because Ron Paul has disastrous domestic positions we are forbidden to point out how revealing his excellent foreign policy stands are in presidential primary debates.