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Opinion: Virtue comes first

Texas+Attorney+General+Ken+Paxton+announces+the+Friday+Night+Lights+Against+Opioids+coalition+on+Oct.+13%2C+2022.
via Facebook

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announces the “Friday Night Lights Against Opioids” coalition on Oct. 13, 2022.

“It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,” declared former President George Washington in his renowned 1796 “Farewell Address.” I’m sure our first president has done more grave rolling than any other Founding Father because of this quote.
From crooked presidents to politicians with a “laws for thee but not for me” approach to governance, it shouldn’t be too controversial to say America has a knack for electing morally compromised people. Scandal, corruption, abuse and general jackassery are commonplace with today’s politicians.
However, voters here in Texas have a chance to partially stem the moral decline of our politics by rejecting Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s bid for reelection.
You might recall Paxton as the attorney general that quite literally ran from a process server attempting to deliver a subpoena. After seeing the process server, Paxton bolted inside his house and had his wife act as an impromptu getaway driver. I wish I had made this up, but in Texas, the stories seem to write themselves.
Paxton was first elected attorney general in 2014 after serving in the Texas Legislature since 2003. Not even a year into his tenure as attorney general, Paxton was indicted on multiple securities fraud charges after he advised two men, one of them a Texas Legislator, to invest in a company without disclosing he would make a commission from the investment. Because of a string of appeals and delay tactics, the charges are still outstanding. But if he is found guilty, he may spend more than 99 years in prison. Only time will tell if Paxton is as good at running from the law as he is from subpoena-wielding process servers.
More recently, the FBI has opened an investigation into Paxton after multiple top-level aides, including the agency’s director of law enforcement, accused Paxton of using his position to benefit a political donor.
“Federal agents are looking into claims by former members of Paxton’s staff that the high-profile Republican committed bribery, abuse of office and other crimes to help Austin real estate developer Nate Paul,” multiple anonymous sources told the Associated Press.
In response to the allegations, Paxton did what any innocent person would do. Fire half of the whistleblowers, harass the remaining ones and then publicly accuse them of being “rogue employees.” If that doesn’t scream, “Hey, I’m innocent,” then I don’t know what does.
Finally, there is Paxton’s blatant hypocrisy regarding his fealty to the Constitution of the United States. His website states, “I pledge to defend the Constitution which I am sworn to protect, but I also promise to have the courage to advance the principles it stands for.”
Strange words from the man who led the charge in trying to get the Supreme Court to invalidate the 2020 election results in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Georgia because they didn’t vote for his preferred presidential candidate. I suppose wacky theories about Venezuela, voting machines and the Loch Ness monster stealing the election are persuasive to Paxton when confronted with the possibility of a Biden presidency. The Constitution and federalism be damned!
If one thing about Paxton is clear, it’s that ethics play second fiddle to political power. For all his talk of traditional values, faith and family, his life seems to be a testament against it. How can we trust Paxton to enforce the law when he can’t follow the law himself?
To some, the criticisms of Paxton’s character may appear superficial. As long as he is doing what we like and angering the right people, then his personal shortcomings are forgivable. It’s the classic transactional argument used to justify supporting candidates even if their behavior, in any other context, would be inexcusable.
But here’s the thing, ignoring wrongdoings by any public figure creates a permission structure that incentivizes others to do the same. It sears the conscience of our culture and abandons the Greek philosopher Hericlitus’ sage advice that “character is destiny.”
When voters reward candidates with electoral success despite extraordinary ethical failings, it sends a message that voters don’t actually care about morals. Even the argument for voting for the so-called “lesser of two evils” doesn’t hold under scrutiny. The moment someone says, “I would vote for this thug because at least he isn’t as thuggish as the other guy,” they are implicitly admitting the candidate’s thuggery doesn’t really matter — at least not in any real sense. If you’re willing to abandon principle for political victory, can you truthfully say you care about said principle?
Over time this becomes a sort of race to the bottom where the quality of each candidate gets worse and worse, resulting in a culture that can’t candidly say it values virtues such as honesty and integrity. Is that the type of society you want to live in? One where it merely pays lip service to good character but abandons it at the ballot box?
To be clear, I’m not endorsing Paxton’s challenger, Rochelle Garza, either. To earn my vote, you have to pass an ethical minimum and broadly align with my views on policy. Because of a myriad of her positions, specifically on abortion, I cannot in good conscience support her campaign.
Luckily, the citizen’s duty is not to hold one’s nose and vote for who they believe is the lesser of the two evils. Instead, you should maintain your ballot in high regard. Keep your standards high, and don’t settle. Partisanship is not patriotism.
Throughout Paxton’s two terms, he has shown what happens when “character is destiny” becomes more than a catchy phrase. Corruption, abuse, bribery and politicized legal theory have plagued the office of the attorney general for the past eight years. It’s time for Texans to say enough is enough.
Ryan Lindner is a political science sophomore and opinion writer for The Battalion.

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About the Contributor
Ryan Lindner
Ryan Lindner, Head Opinion Editor
Ryan Lindner is a political science senior from Hutto, Texas, minoring in history. Ryan joined The Battalion as an opinion columnist in June 2022  until he became the Assistant Opinion Editor for the Spring 2023 semester. Since July 2023, Ryan has been The Battalion's Head Opinion Editor. Ryan has covered a range of topics, from local politics and campus culture to national issues, such as school choice and drug policy. After graduation, Ryan hopes to pursue a master's degree in international affairs.
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