Some controversies instantly inspire everyone on all sides to be petty, stupid, and unfair. This is just such a controversy.
The White House posted a video of President Barack Obama awkwardly saluting a Marine as Obama exited the presidential helicopter, Marine One. He did so while holding a styrofoam coffee cup, which he brought to his forehead as well. This sparked critical comments from Republicans, conservatives and veterans that Obama was showing disrespect for the military.
This is the epitome of a petty “Gotcha!” that guarantees sympathy for the President. I would be surprised if there are not examples of most Presidents botching return salutes, especially those, like Obama and Clinton, who had no experience in the military. (President Eisenhower presumably never had this salute problem.) Obama also was pretty pathetic when he had to throw out the first pitch in a major league baseball game. Oh, so what? Republicans really think that these deficiencies prove Obama is disrespectful of the military, or of the National Pastime? There are so many stronger indications. Continue reading →
“I yield to the distinguished gentleman from the sty…”
People magazine revealed an intriguing bit of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) new memoir, “Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice to Change the World” that suggests that members of the Senate are not the “Distinguished Gentlemen” they are supposed to be, at least when it comes to basic manners involving female colleagues:
“Gillibrand isn’t especially offended by her coworkers’ remarks. ‘It was all statements that were being made by men who were well into their 60s, 70s or 80s,’ she says. ‘They had no clue that those are inappropriate things to say to a pregnant woman or a woman who just had a baby or to women in general.’ ”
Now some critics on the Right are using this as a “gotcha!”, suggesting that Gillibrand is protecting Democrats from negative attention for the same kinds of conduct that Gillibrand’s party and colleagues are quick to use against Republicans in its “war on women” strategy.
This accusation is beyond disingenuous, not to mention stupid. If Gillibrand were to publicly accuse a GOP colleague of such conduct, she would be accused, by these same critics, of being a hysteric, a bad colleague, unprofessional and petty—and they would be right. No professional woman responds to this kind of crude, obnoxious, “Look! I’ve-been-hiding-in-since-1970,” training-wheels harassment by making a public accusation that embarrasses not just the individual at fault but the organization they both work for. For Gillibrand to do this in the U.S. Senate would instantly make her a pariah even in her own party.
Sen. Reid’s crime: Pretending to be a white, old, male, unfunny Margaret Cho.
I cannot pass up an opportunity to come to the defense of Senator Harry Reid regarding a supposed ethical breach that doesn’t exist.
The Democratic Senate leader was addressing the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce, and at one point told the audience, “I don’t think you’re smarter than anybody else, but you’ve convinced a lot of us you are.” Later, when another man named Wong came to the podium, Reid took the microphone and ad-libbed, “One problem I’ve had today is keeping my Wongs straight.”
Look around the web, and you will find some vituperative leftist bloggers and tweeters condemning Donald Rumsfeld as a racist, based on his criticism of Barack Obama. True, any criticism of Barack Obama is presumptively racist—did anyone predict that an unintended consequence of the first black President would be de facto suppression of legitimate political criticism?—-but Rumsfeld, we are told, really proved he’s just like all conservatives, Republicans and teapartiers because he recently said, criticizing the Obama administration’s eminently criticizable policies in Afghanistan:
“A trained ape could get a status of forces agreement. It does not take a genius. And we have so mismanaged that relationship.”
GOTCHA! Comparing a black President to an ape! Proof positive of racial bigotry!
Piers Morgan, CNN’s imported British tabloid reporter turned Larry King replacement, invited trans author and activist Janet Mock on his show to promote her new memoir, “Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More.” As I watched the interview (because of Mock and not Morgan, who makes my skin crawl), I was struck by how far such interviews have come since David Susskind would invite transgendered individuals on his PBS show—this was classy, remember—and essentially hold them out as freaks. Morgan was respectful and supportive, though the sensationalist aspect was still there but muted: the text under Mock during her interview read “BORN A BOY,” and “was a boy until age 18,” which are, though accurately describing how most CNN viewers would understand Mock’s journey, over-simplified and counter to how Mock describes herself.
Mock seemed happy, Morgan seemed gracious. Then Mock went on Twitter and Buzzfeed to pronounce Morgan a clueless, ignorant, biased jerk. He was, shockingly, “trying to do infotainment” Mock said. Morgan’s show is the epitome of infotainment, and everybody knows it. She criticized him for “sensationalizing” transgender people while neglecting a substantive discussion about her book. The sales of Mock’s memoir depend on its sensational aspects, again, as she and her publisher well know. Mock accused Morgan of asking the same kinds of embarrassing questions about body parts and boy friends that non-trans people are inevitably curious about. Well, of course he did…because that’s what his audience is curious about.
None of this was communicated to Morgan either before, during, or after the interview. Morgan, who is no Sam Rubin, was incensed, and struck back via Twitter, since that is the forum where Mock chose to publicly attack him. In various tweets and exchanges he called Mock cowardly, “churlish,” and shameful, and criticized her allies as well, as she successfully brought down the progressive hoards on Morgan’s head. The same week, he invited her back to on the show along with a panel so he could defend himself while assailing her conduct. You can read the transcript of that show here.
“White House officials have quietly changed an official transcript to hide President Barack Obama’s embarrassing historical error during his international press conference with French President Francois Hollande. Obama’s error came when he misnamed Alexis de Tocqueville, a clear-eyed Frenchman who explained the subtle miracle of American culture and democracy in the 1830s. His book is a classic, partly because his insights about Americans’ social equality and civic society have become commonplace among centrists and conservatives. But Obama called him “Alex” in front of the French and U.S. press, and while facing banks of TV cameras. The White House’s official transcript, however, hides the presidential error by using the correct name. It now says that Obama declared: “Alexis de Tocqueville — that great son of France who chronicled our American democracy.
“Obama’s error was slight, but badly timed, partly because Obama is holding a state dinner for Hollande tonight.”
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:
Is the White House transcript alteration of the President’s shortened version of de Tocqueville’s first name a mere edit of a trivial and immaterial miscue by President Obama (ethical) or an attempted cover-up, as the Daily Caller argues, of “an embarrassment for a President who claims to have been a constitutional scholar, and a judicious student of American history” (unethical)?
Hey! Get that foot off of your own desk! Who do you think you are, President of the…oh. Right.”
RECONSIDERED:I have been persuaded by the comment thread that followed this post that my initial position regarding Andy Levy’s objections to Stephen Colbert’s use of his critique from “Red-Eye” was mistaken: Colbert was indeed unfair to Levy, and it was unfair as well for me to hold Levy accountable for some of his conservative colleagues’ serious versions of the argument he properly labelled as absurd. Read the comments of James Flood and Ampersand below for the rebuttal that carried the day. As always, I am grateful for the passionate and well-argued perception of Ethics Alarms readers.
If you need more proof of how toxic and infantile the partisan wars are these days, you need search no farther than the manufactured controversy over President Obama’s disrespectful treatment of his own desk. When I first started seeing posts on major websites complaining about the photo of the President putting his foot on his desk in the Oval Office, I decided the controversy was too idiotic to waste time with. But, as is their tendency and their talent, conservatives escalated this one with exquisite gall, and now I have to take note.