What Harry Reid and Mitt Romney could learn from Exodus 23:7

AP Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill on June 28, 2012, … Continued

AP

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill on June 28, 2012, after the Supreme Court’s ruling on President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney are Mormons – followers of a faith tradition that is especially conscious of the need to live one’s faith in the details of daily life, infusing a sense of the sacred into even the most mundane encounters. That is actually one of the things about which I have come to feel a special common bond with Latter-day Saints.

While generally I have no interest in isolating a specific verse from the larger tradition in which it is situated, it seems that both Romney and Reid could take a lesson from Exodus 23:7, which mandates that people “distance themselves from falsehood.”

This verse is about much more than telling the truth. It is about creating a culture in which people trust each other because they know that people will not hide behind facts. It is about the obligation to understand information as a precious commodity which must be used with care because of the realities which that information or the lack thereof, create and shape.

To be clear, I do not think that there is even a shred of moral equivalence between Reid leveling unsubstantiated accusations and Romney’s refusal to release more tax returns. The former is tale-bearing (itself biblically prohibited), while the latter is not. Both, however, are examples of failing to create distance between one’s self and falsehood, which is different than lying, rumor-mongering, or bearing false witness.

AP

In this Aug. 3, 2012, photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to reporters after he campaigned at McCandless Trucking in North Las Vegas, Nev.

Exodus 23:7 requires that people pro-actively distance themselves from that which is false or misleading. It is actually a remarkably high standard whose purpose is to create behavior which not only conforms to the truth, but builds trust among members of a society. After all, we all know that one can satisfy the demands of truth-telling in ways that still undermine trust.

Just think about the Pink Panther. Remember the episode which Peter Sellers asks the man at the counter if his dog bites? The man says, “No.” And Sellers bends down to pet the dog that proceeds to try and tear his hand off. “I thought you said your dog does not bite!” exclaims Sellers, to which the man responds, “He doesn’t, but that is not my dog.”

There is a world of difference between telling the truth and steering clear of falsehood. It’s a distinction which is often lost in today’s political culture and we are all poorly served when that distinction is lost. Although they do not need the lesson to the same extent, it does seem to be a verse about which both Reid and Romney should be reminded.

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About

Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • PhilyJimi

    How can you tell when a poltician is lying? Their lips are moving!

  • coda

    “bearing false witness” — lying — made the ten commandments. Think about it…carved in stone. The top ten.

  • justicethinks

    It appears that Mr. Harry Reid is making a wild left field accusation but leaving room to say…well I (Mr. Reid) really don’t know if it’s true so I can’t be blamed for spreading a smoking gun rumor, but I hope its starts a fire on Gov. Romney’s character! Gov. Romney has really not done anything wrong here. If Obama can hide documents from the American people like sealed educational records, passport records, etc…, to me that is offensive. Gov. Romney is not required to release back tax documents for the media to pick apart like fried chicken on a picnic outing! Most people take advantage of the tax codes the way they are written. I am very dubious there is anything unethical in Gov. Romney’s taxes or the IRS would have been all over him.
    This will fade.

    My final thoughts about religion and politics and men with the same religion really boils down to the Religion Clause in our constitution:

    The No Religious Test Clause of the United States Constitution is Article VI, paragraph 3, and it states the following:

    The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

    And that’s what it reads!

  • Eugene6

    Romney’s campaign seems to be evolving into a daily huge lie-sling, as he hopes that the mainstream news folks will pick up on each item, false though it is. Let’s see if this trend continues. There has never been a national presidential campaign that has gone to this extreme before. Hopefully the press will figure it out soon and start calling Romney out.

  • Rob

    Romeny commented on the recent attacks in the Sinai but he thought that they were at the Sinai hospital in Dallas.

  • jdr1

    So, do you think Mr. Obama should also take the same lesson?

    Let’s keep in mind that Barack Obama is the guy who started this divisive, hate-filled campaign — since he can’t run on his record, that’s all he’s got.

    Obama’s campaign has flat out lied time and again, yet you conveniently overlook that, putting Romney in the same class with Harry Reid? Have you failed to comprehend that Reid and Obama were the team players here?

    At least there is a legitimate debate as to the claims made by Romney’s side. Neither Reid nor Obama has a leg to stand on.

    I, for one, have grown extremely tired of Obama and the Democrats pitting one American against another, day after day. Even if he had been a competent president, I wouldn’t vote for anyone who conducted himself the way this man has.

    Pathetic. Totally pathetic.

  • Rob

    “Mitt Romney looks like a guy modeling briefs on a package of underwear … He looks like a guy who goes to the restroom when the check comes … He looks like a guy who would run a seminar on condo flipping … He looks like he is the closer at a Cadillac dealership…. He looks like that guy on the golf course in the Levitra commercial.” —David Letterman

  • Rob

    Go ahead, vote for Romney.

  • sql yoda

    What is this I don’t even?

  • sql yoda

    “This verse is about much more than telling the truth. It is about creating a culture in which people trust each other because they know that people will not hide behind facts.”

    You, the author, have a lot to learn about the difference between facts and falsehood.

  • TruthtoPower4

    If you are not going to discuss how Romney lies on a daily basis, and not just in violation of Exodus but also in violation of specific teachings in The Book of Mormon, then all you are doing is using The Bible for your own political purposes, and that is more shameful than anything you accuse Reid of doing. And you really should be ashamed.

  • Marta Layton

    This is an interesting take on that whole situation, rabbi. Thank you.

    One thing that struck me reading this was a defense I heard a while back,, of why Romney wasn’t releasing his taxes – that it would give the other guys ammunition to beat up on him. That struck me as more outrageous than anything those returns might prove – that embarrassment and advantage was more important than truth.

    But it cuts both ways, as you show here. Mr. Reid is suggesting something as truth that we just don’t know, and that hurts trust all around. In my mind, democracy requires a common currency, and the best one I know of is an objective truth free of spin, so far as such a thing is possible.

  • longjohns

    Well. Mr. Romney and Mr. Hirschfield could remember a few more things from Exodus. Perhaps dont lend money for interest?

    20“Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the Lord must be destroyed.d

    21“Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.

    22“Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. 23If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. 24My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.

    25“If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest.e 26If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, 27because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.

    28“Do not blaspheme Godf or curse the ruler of your people.

    29“Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats.g

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