Anyone who understands President Obama’s behavior the last few months is invited to step forward, and anyone who has a benign explanation for it need to step in front of him. It is so bizarre and unprecedented that amateurs and professionals alike are offering psychological diagnoses. Has any American leader ever responded to failure, adversity and crisis with this kind of a disgraceful combination of defiance, bitterness, and detachment? I can’t think of any.
It is said that during the darkest days of Watergate, President Nixon sank into depression. Franklin Pierce coped with the stress of watching the Union unravel over slavery by staying smashed as much as possible. Woodrow Wilson’s battles with Congress probably helped provoke the stroke that incapacitated him. None of these are really comparable to the current President sinking to gratuitous campaign mode, calling Republicans derogatory names and impugning their motives and humanity, while openly alternating between obsessive fundraising and vacationing the rest of the time as the world is desperate for American leadership.
Say what you will about Bill Clinton, and I often do, but the man never capitulated, gave up, or stopped battling no matter how much (legitimate) fire he was under during the Monica scandal and his impeachment. At very least, one would think Barack Obama would see the need, as past Presidents have, to model virtues like diligence, responsibility, fortitude, courage, and perseverance for the nation, especially the young.
Nope. Continue reading
I wanted to stay far, far away from commenting on the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, because I knew that the double standard of media scrutiny of the deceit and dishonesty there ( in contrast to the media’s adversary stance during the Republican convention) would drive me to drink if I thought about it long enough to write coherently. And so I shall stay away, except for this one infuriating topic, which is broader and more significant than the convention itself.
No political party that cares sufficiently about the ethical values of integrity and honesty, as well as responsible leadership, would feature Bill Clinton as its “rock star” speaker. That the Democrats did, and that the media and the public generally gave them a pass for doing so, confirms that Clinton’s corrupting influence on the American culture continues. Recent polls indicate that he is the most popular political figure in the country today, and Democrats will no doubt cite that as justification for inviting him to speak. To the contrary, it shows the damage that he has done to the values of the nation, and how wrong the Democratic party has been to aid and abet that damage.
Bill gave a good speech, as he usually does. There is no way to know how much of it he believes or meant, for Clinton is a recreational liar: he likes lying. He’s good at it, and he does it at every opportunity. In 2008, on The Ethics Scoreboard, the slower and more formal predecessor to this blog, I made Clinton the first (and as it turned out, sole) admittee to the David Manning Liar of the Month Hall of Fame, writing in part that… Continue reading
President Clinton, in a famous "true but false" moment. No Pinocchios, Glenn?
It pains me, it really does, to make Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s “Fact Checker,” an Ethics Dunce. He is one of the best of an often incompetent breed that, as exhaustively and repeatedly shown by Wall Street Journal blogger James Taranto, frequently defines “fact” as “the way we see it.” Kessler is notable for at least trying to keep his political biases out of the equation, and generally does an outstanding job.
His most recent column, however, took on President Obama’s repeated use of the statistic that the U.S. uses 20% of the world’s energy but only has 2% of the world’s oil reserves. Kessler correctly points out that the statement is confounding:
“…But measuring the U.S. consumption against its proven oil reserves makes little sense. Europe, with the exception of Russia, Kazakhstan and Norway, has virtually no oil reserves. Japan, a major consumer, has zero. China’s oil reserves are about half the size of the United States. In fact, in the relative scheme of things, the United States is relatively blessed with proven oil reserves — and, given the U.S. technological advantage, also with potentially large resources of oil yet to be tapped.
“That’s why we said the president is using “non sequitur facts.” It would make much more sense to note that the United States has just 4.5 percent of the world’s population and yet we consume 20 percent of the oil, which is a finite resource, in order to urge Americans that we need to have greater energy efficiency. But in the context of higher gas prices — which is how the president often uses these figures now — it just is not logical to compare consumption to “proven oil reserves.” This is a lowball figure that does not begin to describe the oil known to be within the U.S. borders.” Continue reading
The Ethics Lesson
I’m glad Newt Gingrich is in the presidential race, however foolishly and futilely. He is perhaps the perfect illustration of how a potential political leader’s private personal conduct is not only relevant to assessing his fitness to lead, but predictive of it. What makes Newt especially useful in this regard is that he is a Republican, and all the Democrats who are going to be sneering at his candidacy will have to square their attacks on his character with their indignant claims in 1998 that Bill Clinton’s adultery, sexual harassment and lies were irrelevant to his leadership—and they weren’t truly private or personal. Similarly, Newt will be helpful to some of my ethically-addled trial lawyer friends who have argued that John Edwards is still a trustworthy lawyer, despite his betrayals of his dying wife, his family, his supporters and his party.
Of course private conduct is relevant to judging a leader, especially when private conduct shows an individual to be dishonest, disloyal, cowardly, ruthless, selfish and cruel—like Newt. Cheating on two wives and leaving both of them when they were battling health crises isn’t a mistake, or a coincidence, or a misunderstanding; it is a pattern, and a symptom. You can’t trust Newt. You can’t rely on Newt. You can’t believe Newt. Ask his ex-wives, and eventually, I am quite certain, his current one.
Today conservative talk radio is abuzz with Gingrich’s frenzied efforts to sooth the conservative faithful after he attacked Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget reforms over the weekend. What??? You mean Newt Gingrich stabbed a political ally and fellow party stalwart in the back without warning? Who could have seen that coming? Oh, only everybody: You can’t trust Newt. You can’t rely on Newt. You can’t believe Newt. Ask his ex-wives. Continue reading
What? Oh THAT...
The stunning revelation that Arnold Schwarzenegger has been hiding a love child for a decade has media pundits pondering, “What was the biggest sex scandal to snare an American politician? There’s Bill and Monica, obviously, and Mark Sanford’s South American soul mate; Sen. Ensign’s inter-staff incest and the probable winner after Clinton, John Edwards’ despicable betrayal of his dying wife. It’s a tough field, made tougher by the presence of one more formidable contender: Eliot Spitzer, who lost his job as Governor of New York after being caught playing in a prostitution ring, the exact same kind of criminal enterprise that he busted up as a crusading prosecutor on the way to the State House.
Yesterday, CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux did a feature story on notable political sex scandals, and mentioned all of these and more, with one exception. Can you guess which? Here’s a hint: the author of the scandal currently stars as one of CNN’s political commentators.
Yes, Eliot Spitzer’s sexual meltdown didn’t make the cut of CNN’s scandal review. What does this tell us about CNN, Malveau, and everyone involved–producers, writers, executives…Spitzer?— in the feature vetting process?
Here’s what: Continue reading
Relax! It's OK...you're in Colorado!
In most states, adultery is one of the great examples of how something can be wrong and destructive without being illegal, a useful concept to have in mind when a corrupt politician or a crooked corporate executive says “I didn’t break any laws!” It is also a good example of unethical conduct that is better controlled by ethics than law. A law against adultery is theoretically defensible as a deterrent of harmful social conduct, and the state definitely has an interest in preserving family stability. The problem is that regulating offenses triggered by love, lust and romance feels excessively intrusive to most of us. It has overtones of the Plymouth colony. For better of worse, minimizing adultery belongs in the realm of ethics, not the criminal law. Continue reading