“Knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right.”
Recently, I noticed this quote from our 26th President displayed at the entrance to an elementary school Fifth Grade classroom. As I read it, my immediate thought was, “I wish that was a common attitude with today’s politicians.”
Although “Teddy” Roosevelt is honored as one of America’s best presidents, I recognize that even he, most likely, didn’t always live up to the ideal indicated by his “do what’s right” quote. But, at least, “do what’s right” was one of Roosevelt’s stated ideals. And, surely, that ideal was shared by many of his political contemporaries. Likewise, I’m confident that this was an ideal commonly held by American politicians prior to the T.R. era, going back to the founding of the U.S. Even as recently as the turn of the current century, at least some politicians held to this ideal, as indicated by the well-known signature line of Former Congressman J.C. Watts Jr., who said,
“Character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking.There are too many people who think that the only thing that’s right is to get by, and the only thing that’s wrong is to get caught.”
Today it seems that with one political issue after another it is sadly evidenced that, most often, the “do what’s right” ideal isn’t in play at all. Rather than belabor this by reviewing every applicable issue I can think of (Associated Press phone records scandal, ATF “Fast and Furious” scandal, Forsaking the liberty our sacrifice gained for the citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq, Guantanamo prisoner exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, IRS political targeting scandal, James Rosen phone and email records scandal, Syria foreign policy fiasco, Ukraine foreign policy fiasco, Veterans Affairs scandal, etc.), let me illustrate my point by using details related to just one of today’s hottest political issues … The investigation of the terrorist raid on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012.
That assault left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead. Questions have persisted about contributing factors leading up to that night, about what did happen that night and about related activities since that night. I, instinctively, assumed that any pertinent mistakes were just that … mistakes, without any intent to not “do what’s right”. However, considering that some of the most disturbing questions remain unanswered and especially considering the evasive nature of the responses that have come, it seems my instincts were off the mark and that further scrutiny is more than justified.
NOT KNOWING OR NOT DOING?
When looking at the list of remaining questions about the Benghazi attack, while bearing in mind what it cost the U.S. in blood and treasure, it seems to me that there is an aspect to considering whether our mistakes were just mistakes or they were the result of our failure to “do what’s right” that is academic. In other words, learning how to avoid similar mistakes in the future seems like a greater priority than defining the nature of each mistake. With that in mind, let’s review some of the lingering questions about the Benghazi tragedy.
According to an article appearing in The Blaze on May 12th,the following are the 10 key remaining questions about the Benghazi attack, in the view of Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Although they have an obvious partisan slant, I agree with Senator Cruz about the need for answers to these questions:
1) Why was the State Department unwilling to provide the requested level of security to Benghazi in the summer of 2012?
2) Do President Obama’s daily intelligence briefings in the run-up to September 11, 2012, support the assertion that there was no credible threat of a coordinated terrorist attack on Benghazi during the time? And do the daily intelligence briefings following that date support the claim the administration made that the cause was an Internet video? And why hasn’t the White House declassified and released those briefings, just like President George W. Bush did with his pre-September 11, 2001 briefings?
3) Why did we not anticipate the need to have military assets at the ready in the region on the anniversary of September 11, of all days?
4) Did President Obama sleep the night of September 11, 2012? Did Secretary Clinton? Neither has answered that very simple question — were they awake or asleep while Americans were under fire? When was President Obama told about the murder of our Ambassador?
5) If the Secretary of Defense thought there was “no question that this was a coordinated attack,” why did Ambassador Susan Rice, Secretary Clinton and President Obama all tell the American people that the cause was a spontaneous demonstration about an Internet video?
6) Why did former deputy CIA Director Mike Morrell edit the intelligence community talking points to delete the references to Islamic extremists and Al Qaeda?
7) Why did the FBI not release pictures of the militants taken the day of the attack until eight months after the fact? Why not immediately, as proved so effective in the Boston bombing?
8) Why was Secretary Clinton not interviewed for the A.R.B. [Accountability Review Board] report? And if all the relevant questions were answered in the A.R.B. report… why did the State Department’s own Inspector General office open a probe into the methods of that very report?
9) Why have none of the terrorists who attacked in Benghazi been captured or killed?
10) What additional evidence that the White House engaged in a partisan political campaign to blame the Benghazi attack on the Internet video is contained in the additional emails requested by Judicial Watch but withheld by the White House on the grounds that it would put a “chill on internal deliberations?”
According to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), it was additional evidence on this last point that triggered his decision to form a special committee to investigate what happened in Benghazi. Specifically, Boehner pointed to the release of an email from Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for communications, suggesting that Susan Rice, then the U.N. Ambassador, respond to questions about the Benghazi attack on the Sunday talk shows by “underscor[ing] that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” Conservatives have called the Rhodes directive a “smoking gun” supporting their claims that the White House created a false narrative about the Benghazi incident to avoid criticism of President Obama’s foreign policy in the weeks before his 2012 re-election.
POLITICS OVER IDEALS?
I’m thankful for the politicians who continue, with the courage of their convictions, to faithfully pursue getting to the truth in this matter. But, I’ve been discouraged by the course that others have chosen in giving politics priority over seeking to “do what’s right”. Sadder still has been observing that this has been the course chosen by politicians of all stripes.
Obama administration officials, both past and present, have publicly denigrated Republican efforts to uncover the facts surrounding the Benghazi catastrophe. Their dismissive attitude on this was clearly seen as far back as the 2012 Presidential Campaign, when Obama had Candy Crowley, who was supposed to be a Presidential Debate Moderator, shill for him on the topic. Furthermore, this attitude was just as apparent, following Obama’s reelection, when former-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s testimony in the U.S. Senate on the Benghazi attack included her, infamously, saying, “What difference, at this point, does it make?” And, it was equally and blatantly evident that this attitude remains, when former NSC Spokesman Tommy Vietor was interviewed recently by Bret Baier, of Fox News and his response to one of Baier’s initial questions about Benghazi was, “Dude, this was like two years ago!”
The initial position of congressional Democrats was to threaten that, if a select committee on Benghazi was formed, they would boycott the committee’s hearings. However, following warnings, such as that of Julian Zelizer, a political analyst at Princeton University, that a decision to boycott the select committee entirely would be risky, the Democrats agreed to participate. But, they immediately assumed the stance, as expressed by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) that, though his party would take part in the committee’s hearings, “We think the committee is unnecessary. … We don’t believe the administration covered it up. And we believe that this is political only.”
And, though Republicans have taken the lead in pressing to get at the truth in this matter, prior to their leadership’s decision to form the select committee, there was pressure within the party to not do so. This was out of fear that focusing on Benghazi would shift attention away from the economy and jobs, as issues central to the 2014 midterm election. In other words, at least for some Republicans, politics was a greater priority than to “do what’s right”.
ODE TO THE CITIZEN SERVANT?
I believe that what I’ve laid out here regarding the Benghazi matter clearly illustrates what I said earlier – i.e. “Today it seems that with one political issue after another it is sadly evidenced that, most often, the ‘do what’s right’ ideal isn’t in play at all.” Sadly, it only exemplifies that prioritization of this ideal has clearly and greatly declined and that it continues to do so. If, like me, you agree that our community is better off when this ideal is given priority over political considerations, we must ask, “What is necessary to right this wrong?”
In order to answer this, I think it’s important to first ask, “How did we arrive at our present state?” Some would, rightly, say that we got here through the demise of citizen servants. When our nation was founded, the original intent of political office was a public service to the community from people called to that duty from the private sector. Today, generally, those citizen servants have been replaced by professional politicians. Since professional politicians are more likely to make it a priority to “do what it takes to get reelected” rather than to “do what’s right”, it does seem that the change from citizen servants to professional politicians is the place to lay the blame for the decline of the “do what’s right” ideal. While this is certainly valid, I believe that we, who continue to support this change with our votes, are at fault. The following quote from our current, twice elected, President stands as clear proof of this:
“There is probably a perverse pride in my administration … that we were going to do the right thing, even if short-term it was unpopular. And I think anybody who’s occupied this office has to remember that success is determined by an intersection in policy and politics and that you can’t be neglecting of marketing and P.R. and public opinion.”
This, obviously, lacks the clarity of the quotes shown above, from Theodore Roosevelt and from J.C. Watts Jr. Frankly, I think it borders on gibberish. But, the one thing that is clear in this statement is that “do the right thing” is not an ideal that is set apart and given priority by the Obama administration.
So, with the answer to the question “How did we arrive at our present state?” being “We’re getting what we voted for”, let’s get back to answering the question “What is necessary to right this wrong?” To me, the answer is pretty simple … Stop voting for any sort of politician whose priority is politics rather than to “do what’s right”. Instead, support candidates whose stated ideals are aligned with those of Watts and Roosevelt. America’s founding ideals, rooted in Judeo-Christian values that are time-tested over thousands of years and proven to best serve the community.
Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.