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The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule of life is also the Golden Rule of politics.

When the President recently revealed how his thinking had evolved around the issue of gay marriage, he also managed to open up for us a window into his core; the one philosophy that, to him, underpins both his political and spiritual perspective, “when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is... the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.”

Nobody knows where this Golden Rule came from, but it is the one doctrine that runs through virtually every belief system and religion known to man. The actual Bible quotation is, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is mirrored in the Talmud, which says, “what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour,” as well as the Hindu Mahabarata, which states, “Do not do to others what ye do not wish done to yourself.” The Muslim Hadith puts it, “No one of you is a believer until you desire for another, that which you desire for yourself,” and the Tibetan Buddhist Dhammapada states, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”

Marriage is clearly an institution that, like millions of others, Obama cherishes and, even though, much of the legal and formal benefits of marriage are available in civil partnership, one imagines that he must have wrestled with a simple inner question; if it is an institution of value to you, then why deny it to others? From that perspective an evolution in his stance was understandable.

This is evidently the same question that Obama has asked himself across a range of policy issues. In healthcare, for example, the final compromise he settled on was one in which the same high standard, low cost healthcare plan that was afforded to members of Congress, would also be made available to those on low incomes. And when it comes to tax policy, the Buffet rule —in which a CEO should be on at least the same tax rate as a secretary or lower paid worker—has very strong resonance with the Golden Rule

Policy in accord with this near universal moral is not necessarily a right or left issue either. When it comes to entitlement reform, for example, while benefits are clearly helpful to those in need, beyond a certain point, they run the risk of fostering dependence. In the same way that you would strive to avoid dependency for yourself, so you should strive to avoid it for others too.

To do unto others as you would have them do to you means that you need to be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. This requires empathy and an ability to connect with the feelings and suffering of others—a hallmark of emotional intelligence. When a politician possesses this he or she speaks with an authenticity and sincerity that people admire and can ultimately trust. This is clearly the case with Obama, to a significant degree, and one of the reasons for his continuing political resilience, despite the kind of often faulty messaging that was evidenced by the haphazard way he appeared to stumble into the gay marriage announcement itself.

Despite their own heavily religious base, however, the GOP have ended up demonstrating a startlingly unsympathetic attitude, during the primary process, toward the plight of others—the very antithesis of the Golden Rule. In an early Politico sponsored debate the attendees began cheering the high number of executions in Texas, and a couple of weeks later, in the subsequentFox News debate, Stephen Hill, a gay soldier serving in Iraq was booed by the audience for asking a question about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. And also, of course, in same month, screams of “let him die” were heard during a discussion of the hypothetical case of a seriously ill man without health insurance. All this has given the public insight into a very dark underbelly in today’s Republican Party. As none of the candidates seriously confronted that streak, the stench has remained. Romney has demonstrated genuine moments of emotional intelligence during his political life himself but, as several commentators on the campaign trail have observed recently, his failure to push back the occasional extreme rhetoric in his rallies stands in sharp contrast to John McCain’s willingness to do so in ‘08.

Just as the general election process itself shed light on Obama’s ability to use his emotional intelligence and connect with voters in ‘08, this time round, the election presents the same opportunity for Romney. But it will be up to him to take it. In this modern era, where the deeply enmeshed and borderless media itself serves as an illustration of humanity’s interconnectedness, a candidate unable to demonstrate a genuine connection to and feeling for the plight of others, over and above his own desire to hold office, will most likely fight an uphill battle from day one. The Golden Rule of life is also the Golden Rule of politics.