Tag Archives: President Bill Clinton

A Presidents Day Celebration (PART 4 and Final): The Wild, Wild Ride From FDR to W.


All of the Presidents (except FDR) in this last section were alive and kicking while I was, and so to me they are both more real and less fascinating to some extent. Familiarity breeds, if not contempt, a tendency not to idealize. These leaders are no more flawed than their predecessors, they just seem that way thanks to mass media.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin Roosevelt

Three terms plus, a World War, a Depression, a transformative Presidency and an epic life spent in public service: FDR is another President who can’t be summed up in an anecdote, one book, or a hundred. He accomplished enough great things to be a deserving icon; he committed enough wrongs to be judged a villain. (He was pretty clearly a sociopath, but a lot of great leaders are, including a fair proportion of ours, including some of the best.) The only completely unfair verdict on this Roosevelt is not to acknowledge the importance and complexity of his life. Here are some of my favorite items about him:

  • FDR wrote down a plan when he was still in school outlining the best way for him to become President. The plan was essentially to follow his distant cousin Theodore’s career steps: Harvard, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, Vice-Presidential candidate, and President. (He skipped “Rough Rider.”) Amazingly, he followed it, and it worked.
  • Conventional wisdom holds that FDR’s polio transformed his character, and that without that crisis and challenge he would have been content to be a rich dilettante. I doubt it, but there is no question that he fits the Presidential survivor template, and that his ordeal made him stronger, more formidable and more determined.
  • Many Presidents had strong mothers, especially, for some reason, many of our Chief Executives from Roosevelt to Obama. Franklin’s mom, however, wins the prize. It’s amazing Eleanor didn’t murder her. But Mrs. Roosevelt is why Eleanor was there in the first place: all of our Presidents raised by strong mothers married very strong wives.
  • If a computer program were designed to create the perfect American leader, it would give us FDR. He was the complete package; his charisma, charm and power radiate from recordings and films that are 90 years old. That smile! That chin! That head! That voice! He is one of the very few Presidents who would be just as  popular and effective today as the era in which he lived.
  • And just as dangerous. FDR is also a template for an American dictator, which, I believe, he would have been perfectly willing to be. It’s no coincidence that Franklin was the only President to break Washington’s wise tradition of leaving office after two terms.
  • Political and philosophical arguments aside, at least four of Roosevelt actions as President were horrific, and would sink the reputation of most leaders: 1) Imprisoning Japanese-Americans (and German-Americans, too); 2) Ignoring the plight of European Jews as long as he did, when it should have been clear what was going on; 3) Handing over Eastern Europe to Stalin, and 4) Knowing how sick he was, giving little thought or care to who his running mate was in 1944.
  • Balancing all that, indeed outweighing it, is the fact that the United States of America and quite possibly the free world might not exist today if this unique and gifted leader were not on the scene. Three times in our history, the nation’s existence depended on not just good leadership, but extraordinary leadership, and all three times, the leader we needed emerged: Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin. I wouldn’t count on us being that lucky again.

I left the bulk of reflection about the character and leadership style of Theodore Roosevelt to one of Teddy’s own speeches to embody, and I’ll do the same for his protege.

On September 23, 1932, New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a speech at Manhattan’s Commonwealth Club. (Everyone, conservative, liberal or moderate, should read it….here.) It was a defining statement of progressive principles and modern liberalism, redefining core American values according to the perceived needs of a changing nation and culture.  It is a radical speech, and would be regarded as radical by many today, even after much of what Roosevelt argued was reflected in the policies of the New Deal.

After sketching the origins and progress of the nation to the present, he flatly stated that the Founders’ assumptions no longer applied:

A glance at the situation today only too clearly indicates that equality of opportunity as we have know it no longer exists. Our industrial plant is built; the problem just now is whether under existing conditions it is not overbuilt. Our last frontier has long since been reached, and there is practically no more free land. More than half of our people do not live on the farms or on lands and cannot derive a living by cultivating their own property. There is no safety valve in the form of a Western prairie to which those thrown out of work by the Eastern economic machines can go for a new start. We are not able to invite the immigration from Europe to share our endless plenty. We are now providing a drab living for our own people….

Just as freedom to farm has ceased, so also the opportunity in business has narrowed. It still is true that men can start small enterprises, trusting to native shrewdness and ability to keep abreast of competitors; but area after area has been preempted altogether by the great corporations, and even in the fields which still have no great concerns, the small man starts with a handicap. The unfeeling statistics of the past three decades show that the independent business man is running a losing race. Perhaps he is forced to the wall; perhaps he cannot command credit; perhaps he is “squeezed out,” in Mr. Wilson’s words, by highly organized corporate competitors, as your corner grocery man can tell you.

Recently a careful study was made of the concentration of business in the United States. It showed that our economic life was dominated by some six hundred odd corporations who controlled two-thirds of American industry. Ten million small business men divided the other third. More striking still, it appeared that if the process of concentration goes on at the same rate, at the end of another century we shall have all American industry controlled by a dozen corporations, and run by perhaps a hundred men. Put plainly, we are steering a steady course toward economic oligarchy, if we are not there already.

Clearly, all this calls for a re-appraisal of values.

So Franklin Roosevelt re-appraised them: Continue reading


Filed under Character, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, History, Humor and Satire, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Professions, U.S. Society

Is The President Checking Out A “High Crime or Misdemeanor”?


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


Filed under Character, Government & Politics, History, Leadership

The Ethics Corrupter-In-Chief

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


Filed under Character, Government & Politics, Leadership

Ethics Dunce: Glenn Kessler, Washington Post “Fact Checker”

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


Filed under Character, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics

The Chivalry Curse, the President, and the Dazzling Smile

The Chair of the Democratic National Committee

The Republicans seldom look more silly—and politics seldom looks more cynical— than when the GOP complains that the media or liberal interest groups are ignoring conduct by a progressive politician that they would vociferously criticize if a conservative politician behaved similarly, even though the Republicans themselves see nothing wrong with the conduct, and would scream that the criticism was unfair if it was focused on a conservative. This is yet another of the funhouse mirror versions of the Golden Rule in action, being employed for a dubious “Gotcha!”: “Do Unto Others As You Would Do Unto Me, Even Though If You Did That Unto Me, I Would Condemn You For It.”

It is the game Republican women’s groups and  conservative pundits are playing now, because the National Organization for Women hasn’t rapped the knuckles of President Obama for calling Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D.-Fla.), the Democratic National Committee Chair, “cute.”

Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America (a conservative women’s organization), called out NOW on its double standard, and said,“Of all people who ought to be offended at President Obama’s statement it should be an ardent feminist like Wasserman-Schultz. Isn’t objectifying women by their looks a mortal sin among feminists?” Charlotte Hayes, a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, the conservative twin of NOW, argued, “If a conservative had said this, [NOW] might have gone quite crazy. The Democrats might have gone quite crazy and tried to have his head on a platter. I guess Democrats could get really mad because you say a woman has a charming smile.”

But, she added, “I’m not one of those people who gets mad if you said I have a charming smile. I would be flattered.”

For its part, NOW has said that it has more pressing matters than criticizing a major ally’s politically incorrect gaffe, much as it couldn’t be bothered to criticize Bill Maher for calling Sarah Palin a “dumb twat” or MSNBC’s Ed Schultz for describing conservative pundit and single mother Laura Ingraham as a “right wing slut.” The President and the woman with the cute smile, meanwhile, are ignoring the whole thing.
Here is the irony, and the problem: they are all wrong. Continue reading


Filed under Business & Commercial, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Leadership, Professions, U.S. Society, Workplace

Newt Gingrich: Ethics Victim…Ethics Miscreant…Walking, Talking Ethics Lesson

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


Filed under Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Popular Culture, U.S. Society

CNN, Flunking Journalistic Integrity 101

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


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Professions