Brad Hirschfield Live: In the debate, which candidate spoke to your ethics and values?

Oct 17, 2012

President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney debated for the second time last night.

As pundits, politicos and the general public parse their statements, what were your thoughts on how they addressed values and ethics?

Should a candidate's faith influence their politics and policies? Should faith factor into their thinking about issues such as abortion and reducing the federal debt?

Did the candidates address values and ethics well, or sidestep the ones most on your mind and most important to the nation?

Brad Hirschfield will live chat with readers at 1 p.m. ET about this topic.

Submit questions and opinions for Brad to respond to now.

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Last night was quite a tussle.  Seemed like two gladiators circling each other and looking for each other's weak spots.  But what were they "fighting" for?  What values and what vision of America animates each of the candidates?


Did either of the candidates make the case for a set of values, or a national vision, with which you can identify?  How about one to which your seriously object?


For the next hour, don't worry about who won, but share  your comments and questions about what it all meant.


Let's go!

I thought both candidates sounded very good last night, and that the winner is whoever's position has the better factual basis. Do their tax plans add up? What are the technological and environmental barriers to North American energy independence? Can we afford defense expenses, and do they create enough jobs to justify them? How soon did Intelligence determine that Benghazi was not motivated by YouTube? Would increasing manufacturing create the kinds of jobs people traditionally associate with that sector; or would it have to be motivated by automation to hold down labor costs? These questions can't be answered with opinions or ideology.

Each question you raise is very important, and each must be answerd more candidly and fully than either candidate did last night.  But ideology informs how one answers, which facts are seen as most salient, and how one defines words like "add up" "barriers", "justify" and others that you used in your comment.


Ideology is no excuse for lack of clarity, but it certainly determines how one decides what it is that is most important and therefore addresses, and which things get ignored or left out, not because the candidate is a liar (a phrase used with increasing ease, especially by Democrats these days) but because of how they truly don't believe it is an issue which demands attention.

For all the talk that comes from the left about how they are the only party that cares about women's rights, its amazing the lack of concern they have about the middle east. Egypt is turning in a islamist state as we speak and a girl was recently shot in the head for promoting literacy. the idea that women's right only revolves around birth control, is a sickening example of first world problems.

It's an important observation -- less to point fingers at "the left", than to appreciate that both sides care deeply about "women's issues", neither can cover all of them, and both have stgrengths and weakness based on their over-arching world views.  That is why this conversation about values and animating ethics is actually so important, and simply labeling one side as pro-women and the other anti-  is clearly wrong.

I think that most people would agree on the natural law that says members of a community should not murder, cheat, or steal from other members of the community. If people lead an honest life, they and the community will benefit. But, we all know the world is more complex. If someone charges $10 for food, I can offer food for $8. Both my customers and I benefit while my competition is hurt. Am I being a good member of the community if I am hurting another member of the community. Faith can guide us with ways to intereact with others. I don't see how the President or any other leader of a community can separate their faith from their actions.

You are correct.  That does not mean I support theocracy, or rule by faith, or of one faith.  It simply means that if one's faith is genuine, and it has any larger social vision, or purpose other than as a source of personal satisfaction, then it must influence their thinking about politcs and public policy.  The real challenge is what ethic of faith can people employ such that they can merge the integrity demands of the faith they follow with the freedon demands which assure others of the same right?

I think that faith does play a part in determining a leader's policies, but one faith can still have multiple solutions. Faith can tell us that we should strive to help people in need. The question is how do we help? We could take from those with excess and give to those in need. But, that isn't the only possible solution. The old saying about teaching a man to fish comes to mind. Instead of directly giving the poor money, we can offer support that helps them earn their own money. Faith alone can't always guide us to the best possible solution to the problems we face. But, I guess without faith of any sort, we would totally ignore those in need.

One does NOT have to have faith to care about those in need, certainly not religious faith.  I mean, don't get me wrong, I am a fan of faith, but plenty of masters of compassion have been so w/o the benefit of relgious faith. 


If however you mean that w/o some sense of purpose and meaning greater than one's self, it's pretty damn hard to care about others, we agree.  Thanks for that important observation.

I'm not going to pay income taxes this year because I'm staying home to care for my infant twins. So your topic question is a loaded one for me because Romney obviously believes I lack any sense of personal responsibility. My question is a little broader, though. At what point does a candidate effectively disqualify him or herself from consideration? Akin in Missouri might be an extreme example, but campaigns often try to impugn an opponent's integrity by highlighting some particular comment or act. Do voters have an obligation to look at the bigger picture? Should they vote on gut instinct? Do things like likeability and "who would you rather have a beer with" mean anything? Thanks.

Let's be fair, both to you and to Gov Romney.  You are doing a crucial job -- one which benefits not only your kids, but the society of which they will be members.  And to presume that Mr Romney would not agree because of one statement -- one he has sdmitted was not only "inelegant", but "wrong", is both unfair and wrong.


Do you Presume that President Obama has no respect for religion because of his "clinging to guns and religion" comment in the last election?  I hope not!  That too would be wrong and unfair.

I don't think that there is a bright line for candidates disqualification -- at least for one's who have gotten far enough along to be taken seriously by large numbers of people.  But I do think that what you call the "bigger picture" can and should influence voters.  At the end of the day, individual policies may get passed or not, but if you support the vission and the values of a candidate, you will probably not regret your vote, even if you vote differently in the next election.

I'm a pretty policy oriented guy but it was actually a friend's facebook post that had me thinking the most. My friend is a conservative Christian as well as a teacher and wrote that it wasn't about policy for him, it was that he didn't think Romney was a good role model for kids, that he came across as selfish and too focused on "winning" and not what was important, an attitude that would be harmful in healing partisan wounds and in foreign relationships. His inconsistencies in position (several times during the campaign he has either changed from an earlier stance or had his campaign explain what "he truly meant was...") makes it seem more like he's focused on saying whatever makes him look good at the moment. President Obama had one moment where he said (in regards to Libya) that the responsibility was his, not Secretary Clinton's- I found myself wondering if Governor Romney would say the same thing.

I think your friend makes interesting, but not necessarily helpful points, and based on your response to them, wonder if you like them (as you seem to) because they are evidence of what you would have assumed would be a Romney supporter prefering the President, and thus (again presuming here) agreeing with your choice.


We tend to focus on those elements of candidates, or other people for that matter, which confirm that which we already believe.  It's how our brains are wired, at least at the default level.  A more evolved way to assess candidates, or other people, might be to start by asking what you could learn from them, where they surprised you in a positive way (if you tend not to like them) or in a negative way (if you did like them).  Then one can combine what you already knew and the new things, weigh them, and make a decision.  It may be the one you would have made anyway, or you may surprise yourself, but either way, your decision will be wiser.

In the first debate something that Romney said continues to bother me. He called out his family in an exchange about taxes on the rich, "I know that you and your running mate keep saying that and I know it’s a popular thing to say with a lot of people, but it’s just not the case. Look, I’ve got five boys. I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true, but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it. " Now I know his sons campaign for him and a few have gotten into a little hot water for what they've said but Mitt seams to have no limits on what he will say to get elected. I have to question his family values.

Is there a question in there?  I am not sure of your point, but if it is to question someone's family values because they admit that within a family people are not always honest with each other, especially when it's a kid trying to get something from a parent by wearing them down, I could not disagree more.


Actually, one of the things that both candidates share, as far as I can tell, is a profound committment not only to their own family, but to the importance of family in America.  They may disagree about which policies best honor and nurture that importance, but they both clealry believe in it.  Is there any serious doubt of that?

I feel like we've somehow taken a turn where compassion from government is sometimes perceived as a bad thing. I feel like until about 10 years ago, programs like unemployment insurance, SNAP (the food stamp program), medicare/medicaid, and other forms of social safety assistance were not really threatened. There would be discussion about changing the program or making it more efficient, but I feel like those programs are far more vulnerable now. How can we ever make the claim to be the greatest country ever when we are also talking about letting people go hungry, homeless, and sick? I get that vibe a lot more from the Republican Party than the Democratic party. Shouldn't we be judged on what we do for those with the least than those with the most?

Certainly your last line will strike anyone familliar with the New Testament and Jesus' teaching about what people do for "the least of us".  And I certainly agree that in a country not only as great, but as wealthy, as our is, the issues you raise, and some level of shared public responsibility for them, must not be shirked.  If we do so, we risk the very greatness of the nation.


That said, there are real and fair disagreements about what constitutes real help, what creates long-term dependencies which actually hold people back instead of helping them move forward, and real questions about how we balance our obligations to people in the present versus those in the future.  Seems to me that most Dem and Rep would agree with my first 'graph and your well written comment, but disagree about how to get there. 

It's a moral abrogration to bray about 'success' in student loan programs that the feds have at 6.8%. when the discount rate to banks is essentially nil, and even the mtg, lending rate is less than half that. students are a profit center for Uncle Sam, a ridiculous proposition. a moral fail to consider this a good thing, truly atrocious.

I hear you loud and clear, especially as it is something which both parties do, and it really is "off".  On the other hand, to be fully fair, rates are connected to loans based on the "financial quality" of the borrower, and most students are not going to get the ranks at which banks can borrow from the fed, because they are a heck of a lot less likely to pay off the debt.


We could lower studetn loan rates alot, but it would also shrink the pool of qualified borrowers -- probably to those who don't really need the loans!  So I feel for you, and appreciate the sting of the situation, but it's not a simple as you make it, especially if we want to make those loans available to as many people as possible.

I don't know if Faith per se should influence politics, but rather it should influence the person who should then use their values to dictate policies- I prefer that the politician say that they believe it, not that their religion says it to be true. It may be that the religion was the biggest factor in coming to that value, but I want the candidate to own it.

A wise, clear and concise summary.  Thank you.

The only thing I would add, is that there is a world of difference between pursuing a policy which protects one's most deeply help values and imposing a very specific set of conclusions on all people, regardless of what they believe.

My guess is that many people would say a candidate's faith should influence his/her politics.... as long as s/he believes in Christ, but not in Allah. Which begs the question, why in this nation of freedom of religion are so many people intolerant and adamant that others should be forced to live by the values of the dominant religion? Thank you.

I suspect, no I KNOW, that you are right.  The answer that such people give is that they make the disticntion because "they really are right and those other people are dead wrong!".  That is not a defense of the position, but it's important to appreciate where people are coming from if you want to engage them constructively.


People are typically intollerant when they confuse the right to be who they want to be, with the need for you to be like they want you to be.  To be fair though, that happens to all of us, and there are norms which we do impose on others even if they wish we would not do so.

We do, and should continue, to make all kinds of laws to protect children from assault.  While I do NOT share their views, that is what the pro-life movement thinks it is doing to.  We can't solve this one here, but it's imprtant to see that we are all in this together, and often more alike than we imagine.  Worth bearing in mind when dealing with contentious issues.

The only "values" these debates are designed to examine is "What's in it for me?" and that none too closely. They can't start talking about the big ethical issues of governing one month before the election.

Don't confuse big ethical issues with things that are diffuse, abstract, or intangible.  When  one speaks of how much money to spend on the poor, what one's definition of "fair" or "fair share" is, etc.  those ARE the bif ethical issues, and they are playing out in real life every day.

Hi, Brad! Not sure this is totally related to ethics/morals, but when talking about a political debate, can we please get rid of the whole idea of a debate Winner/Loser? It really doesn't help people deal with the issues or understand which candidate speaks to their values. Maybe I'm being overly sensitive, but it really rankles me!

Since that is exactly what I invited us to do here today, I clealry agree with you!  That said, it can be useful to speak of winners and losers in some settings, especially if what that means is how voters were persuaded to one side or the other, or how the event impacted their vote.


Of course, you are right about the need to step back from the bickering about policy and ask about each candidates vision for the nation, their animating values, etc.  Policies will come and go, make it through Congress or not, but get e sense of what the candidate stands for, what issues keep him up at night, etc. and you can make a pretty informed decision.

I know that each candidate has their own personal core values, but they have to remember that when they are elected president, they are president of our whole diverse country, and not just of the people that voted for them. Even if they wanted to only help their own voters, I never thought a candidate would actually say that they had written off almost half of the population. I was taught long ago that one's morality is judged by what you do when you don't think anyone is watching (videotaping).

We agree 100% (no joke intended) about the fact that whoever wins the election, they must govern 100% of us, and all 100% of us must honor them as our President regardless of how we voted.  That's a tall order, especially these days, but if both the candidtes and the nation make it a priority, we can certainly do it.


To be fair to Gov Romney, he did not "write off" almost half the population.  He simply made an observation regarding how people vote their percieved self-interest.  Ironically, that is what the President keeps accusing Mr. Romney of!   And to some extent, they are both right -- people do vote with a heavy dose of self-interest, and campaign as such also.


The real question is how wide is one's defintion of self and of the larger interests that must be secured for that self to prosper.  If we took those questions more seriously, the President would have to stop claiming that he owns the rights to what is "fair", and Gov Romney would have to redefine his definition of dependancy and his image of "the 47%".

Candy Crowley’s bias was insidious. She chose the questions and the questioners. She let President Obama’s towering ignorance on gas prices slip by unremarked. She corrected Mitt Romney with incorrect facts, allowing Obama to escape the most dangerous moment of the entire debate. She did what she could to tilt this debate in Obama’s favor without ever acknowledging that she was doing so. She knew what she was doing.

We agree, and I hate to admit because I like her and appreciate her work, but last night was not her best night's work -- unless she is working for the President.  That said, crying over the past, especially when nothing she did necessarily changes anything, is not worth losing sleep over.  I admit however, that I AM gald someone raised the issue!

Well, as I often say, the time is at hand, and my hands are tired!  Thanks as always for so many smart comments and questions.

We can continue this converstion of you find me on facebook and follow me on twitter @bradhirschfield.


'Til next week, when I will be taking your questions from the Middle East,




In This Chat
Brad Hirschfield
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is an author, radio and TV talk show host, and President of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. His On Faith blog, For God's Sake, explores the uses and abuses of religion in politics and pop culture. He wrote "You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism." Named as one of the nation's 50 most influential rabbis in Newsweek, and one of the top 30 "Preachers and Teachers" by, he is the creator of the popular series, Building Bridges, airing on Bridges TV, and co-host of the weekly radio show, Hirschfield and Kula: Intelligent Talk Radio. For more information see
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