On Saturday December 31st, President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, which authorizes indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens, among other things. The president's signature was accompanied by a signing statement noting serious reservations, saying "The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it."
For the moment, let's put aside the horrifying fact that such a bill was even earnestly discussed or advanced in Congress, or that indefinite detention without a trial of anyone is something we're willing to entertain as acceptable. Let's put aside the disturbing practice of folding fundamental changes to U.S. military and legal policy into what are essentially administrative budgeting conversations. And let's pretend that the president didn't sign such a groundbreaking bill on a holiday, a Saturday when most of the country was known to be preoccupied with celebrating the particulars of the Gregorian calendar.
All those things aside, President Obama still signed a bill that he says he disagrees with. That's fine if the bill says that unicorns might exist or that the White House will be painted green; sign it, put it in a file somewhere, work out the details later. But a bill that authorizes the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without trial seems like it deserves a lot more than the "I don't like it but I guess it's what we have to do" treatment.
At some point when I was fairly young, I was excited to learn about the concept of "truth in advertising" - the notion that it actually matters whether what you say in a public announcement or description of products or services is true or not. I was even more excited to learn that there was an official government entity (in the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission) empowered to enforce truth in advertising standards, and punish those who would dare publish falsehoods. It totally knocked my socks off to further learn that ordinary citizens could submit claims of false advertising and compel advertisers to change or withdraw their deceptive advertising pieces.
What a world of pure and unflinching justice we could then live in! To walk around knowing that the slogans and invitations on billboards, newspaper ads and television were all required by law to be true, and that onerous fines and the shame of the public eye awaited the occasional miscreant who would stray from this noble code. No need to worry about being deceived or misled as a consumer; we could always have confidence that advertisers would stand by their claims.
Like I said, I was young.
But at the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, I do think there's been a notable shift in the standards we hold marketers and public figures to when it comes to truth in advertising. Seems like somewhere around the mid 1990's, we kind of gave up on it.
Is it really important to practice what you preach?
Must we really become the change we wish to see in the world?
As I try to work in my life and community to create a peaceful and sustainable existence, these are questions that churn in my head daily.
On a personal level, I think a lot of us struggle with living out the values we hold - we have aspirations and ideals about ourselves and the world we live in that can seem hard to enact, even when the path might feel clear.
But when you start to talk about how the rest of the world could be - even should be - the conversation goes beyond issues of self-discipline, time management, or having sufficient support and encouragement. When we talk about sharing a message with others about how we want the world to be and perhaps suggest they change their behavior to get there, it becomes a question of whether there's a practical or ethical obligation to already first be living out that existence well as the messenger.
Some people say you have to transform your own life first before you can expect others to transform theirs at your suggestion. Do we?