Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Political Capital and Moral Development

President Bush stated, in a well-publicized speech, that he has "earned capital" and that he intends to "spend it." 
Ebullient over his re-election and increased Republican majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives, he [Bush] made it clear he saw the vote as a mandate for his manifesto.

"This week the voters of America set the direction of our nation for the next four years," he said. "I earned capital in the political campaign and I intend to spend it."
Of course, capital comes with a price, and now we are seeing the price.  It appears that those who elected him expect a return on their investment:
Conservative and religious leaders who led the pray-in protest said elevating Specter could jeopardize their support of GOP senators, including Frist, who are eyeing a White House run in 2008.

"It is a betrayal and a slap in the face to millions of pro-life Americans who helped re-elect this president," said Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition. "Don't turn to us in four years when you want to run for president ... and expect us to contribute millions of dollars."
Of course, that is business as usual, from a political perspective.  But what of the psychological perspective?  Reciprocity is an important part of any culture.  If one examines the culture, certain rules governing reciprocity become evident.  Of course, different people have different ideas about the rules. 

Turning now to view this from the perspective of individual psychology, it is instructive to consider a theoretical framework that is used to understand the development of such rules.  Perhaps the most established is that of Lawrence Kohlberg.  He came up with what he called "stages" of moral development.  Robert N. Barger, Ph.D, kindly posted a synopsis of this on a site at Notre Dame:

Pre-conventional 1
Obedience and Punishment

Individualism, Instrumentalism,
and Exchange
Conventional 3
"Good boy/girl"

Law and Order
Post-conventional 5
Social Contract

Principled Conscience

The first level of moral thinking is that generally found at the elementary school level. In the first stage of this level, people behave according to socially acceptable norms because they are told to do so by some authority figure (e.g., parent or teacher). This obedience is compelled by the threat or application of punishment. The second stage of this level is characterized by a view that right behavior means acting in one's own best interests.

The second level of moral thinking is that generally found in society, hence the name "conventional." The first stage of this level (stage 3) is characterized by an attitude which seeks to do what will gain the approval of others. The second stage is one oriented to abiding by the law and responding to the obligations of duty.

The third level of moral thinking is one that Kohlberg felt is not reached by the majority of adults. Its first stage (stage 5) is an understanding of social mutuality and a genuine interest in the welfare of others. The last stage (stage 6) is based on respect for universal principle and the demands of individual conscience. While Kohlberg always believed in the existence of Stage 6 and had some nominees for it, he could never get enough subjects to define it, much less observe their longitudinal movement to it.
Let's look at what has happened with this business of political capital.  A certain group donated a bunch of money and put up a big get-out-the-vote effort.  Their candidates got elected.  Then they feel entitled to expect the party to do what they want.  The basic scheme here is: 'I did something for you, now you do something for me.'  Where does this fall among the levels and stages of moral development? 

It falls into level 1, stage 2, which is one of the "pre-conventional" stages.  A person operating at the second level would say something like: 'I did something for you, and I want you to do something for me, but since there is no law that requires it, I really can't insist on it.'  A person operating at the third level would say something like: 'I did something for you, and I would appreciate it if you would do something for me, but I understand that you have to make the decision that you think is right.'

It seems likely that the members of the Christian Defense Coalition are the ones who said they based their election choice upon "moral values."  They were right, of course.  The problem is that those moral values happen to be the values held by elementary-school children.

(Note: The Rest of the Story/Corpus Callosum has moved. Visit the new site here.)
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