Politics as a Nasty Vocation

November 17, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Politics, as Weber said, inevitably involves a tension: “the attainment of ‘good’ ends” comes at the price of “using morally dubious means.”

Earlier in this blog (here), I put it in terms of cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance is really the close cousin of Hypocrisy — changing your perceptions to make them square with your larger ideas. Cognitive Dissonance went to grad school; Hypocrisy chose religion and politics.
Secret recording is morally dubious, to say the least, as we have seen recently here in New Jersey. When a Rutgers student committed suicide after two other students streamed video of him in a romantic encounter with another male, Gov. Christie was quick to say that the secret taping was a violation of conscience. “I don't know how those two folks are going to sleep at night, knowing that they contributed to driving that young man to that alternative.” (Was it a violation of the law? Christie, whose previous job was US Attorney, said that he would leave it up to his attorney general.)

Now another secret taping has emerged. According to Bob Braun, who’s been covering education for the Star-Ledger since anyone can remember, a young man followed a special ed teacher, Alissa Ploshnick, into a bar,
bought drinks for Ploshnick and began asking about tenure. Ploshnick talked about how difficult it was to fire a tenured teacher. She said some things she shouldn’t have said. She quoted someone else as having used a racial obscenity, the so-called “n-word..”
All the while, he was secretly videotaping, and Ploshnick’s comments are part of an anti-union web video, “Teachers Gone Wild.”

Gov. Christie’s goals include the weakening of the union. But what about the morally dubious means? Did the governor deem this secret taping a violation of conscience?
Christie recently praised O’Keefe’s secret taping of Ploshnick and others and said: “If you need an example of what I’ve been talking about for the last nine months — about how the teachers union leadership is out of touch with the people and out of control — go watch this video.”
The dissonance goes further. The person whose privacy or confidentiality you violate should be someone who deserves it. But Ploshnick doesn’t seem like such a bad person or teacher. In 1997,
Alissa Ploshnick risked her life to save the lives of a dozen Passaic schoolchildren. She threw herself in front of a careening van to protect her students and landed in the hospital with broken ribs, a fractured wrist, a badly bruised pelvis and glass cuts in her eyes. She could have died. . . . She says she spent $9,000 of her own money on school supplies for her students, made sure a child in her class made his dental appointments by bringing him there and was just asked to be a godparent to the child of another student.

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