I’ve been stewing on a question for some time now – especially since this post got me to thinking about a conversation several months ago with Jinglebob regarding the war in Iraq. This question, however, can also be applied to political campaigns, labor disputes, and public disagreements of all kinds. The question is this:
At what point do good people make the choice
to fight dirty in order to win?
I remember the point at which, during the 2000 Republican Primary season, McCain started to get dirty, and the Straight Talk Express began to veer. I remember pundits saying, just a few months ago, that Obama needed to “get tough” to combat Clinton’s negative attacks. I’ve worked in communications for more than a decade now, and I’ve seen the daily headline wars won again and again by simplistic, and generally negative, messages – sometimes with little to no basis in fact. And I’ve heard friends and family advocate extreme measures to combat terrorists with no qualms at all about committing the worst sorts of atrocities against innocent people.
When confronted with such an adversary, it seems there is little room for negotiation, nuance, rules or truth. The faithful are often admonished to turn the other cheek – but once both cheeks are battered and bruised … then what?
This is the point at which the idealist in me says, Then you lose on principle. Die with honor.
But the body rebels. The mind justifies. The ego says, No way I’m going out without a fight. The gloves are coming off!
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Jewish psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl touches briefly on the lives of Jewish capos – prisoners who, in many cases, decided to survive the concentration camps by any means necessary. These prisoners acted as camp trustees on behalf of the Nazi SS and, Frankl says, sometimes became more brutal that the Nazi guards in their treatment of fellow prisoners. Frankl argues that these men sacrificed something more precious than life – their personal values. They were accorded special privileges and survived the camps, but many never recovered their humanity.
Public policy is rarely life-and-death, so this comparison is not exact. But the same questions apply to both arenas: Where is the line, and when should we cross?