Ethics Notes: Santa, the Senate, and Snow

Some random thoughts on ethics matters as I try to simultaneously finish the Ethics Alarms 2009 Best and Worst lists and deal with a series of bad extension cords running up my Christmas tree…

  • Nutritionists and doctors currently targeting Santa Clause as a bad role model for children because he has a belly that shakes when he laughs like a bowl full of jelly are cultural vandals, trying to take the joy out of seasonal traditions by using a beloved mythological character for publicity. This has been tried before, but  then the cynical effort was recognized for what it was—humorless, inappropriate and idiotic, much like the anti-gay zealots who questioned the relationship between Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie. (“Bert and Ernie aren’t homosexual,” a show spokesperson memorably said at the time. “They are not heterosexual. They are puppets.”) What child looks upon Santa as fitness role model? Does he make kids want to dress in a red suit? Smoke clay pipes? Grow long white beards? Gee, maybe he contributes to delinquency by glamorizing breaking and entering! It’s  unethical to pick on fictional characters, especially those who do nothing but make people happy.
  • Snow rescue ethics: a driver stopped his car in the middle of a snowy parking lot, blocking other motorists who wanted to leave, and was indignant that the drivers were irate. He had been helping a woman free her car from an ice and snow trap. Good for him; that still didn’t excuse his complete lack of consideration for everyone else. An open and ploughed parking space was six feet away, and he easily could have used it, leaving his car to help the woman without inconveniencing others. This is the “Saint’s Excuse” in microcosm: “I’m doing a good deed, so my misconduct in the process doesn’t count.” It does count. Just because you are doing good for one person doesn’t excuse being callous to everyone else. Maybe he works for ACORN…
  • The continued screaming from Republicans, columnists and bloggers about the goodies used to induce 60 Senators to vote for the health care bill just makes the public less informed about how the legislative process works, has always worked and will always work. I’m not going to rehash my comments on Sen. Mary Landrieu’s earlier deal, but really this is politics, which has a strange but ancient and well-established ethical culture. Deals like these made the Civil Rights Laws possible; they make government possible. It isn’t “everybody does it,” it is “this is the only way it can be done.”
  • Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D) crossed multiple ethical lines—fairness, civility, respect, honesty—with a bizarre rant on the Senate floor that equated Republican opposition to the  health care bill (a bill so compromised and convoluted that its advocates call it a “bad bill”) to Nazi ideology, racism, McCarthyism, cruelty and hate. His most telling comment, however, admitted to the most glaring ethical misconduct of the bill’s supporters in the Senate and the House:  they are, he said, “ a lot less poorly informed than people who say, ‘Well you didn’t read the bill,’ would have you believe,” he said.

Gee, Senator—I don’t think elected officials who vote for a 2000 page bill that affects every man, woman and child in the U.S., costs billions of dollars, is a sure bet to add to dangerous deficits, and overhauls one-sixth of the nation’s economy should be poorly informed at all. In fact, I think Senators have an ethical duty to be competent, diligent and responsible, which means reading legislation (not just relying on summaries by aides), understanding it, and insisting that it be coherent, sending it back to be redrafted if it isn’t. I think any major legislation that hasn’t been read and understood by all of its supporters in a legislative body should be rejected for that reason alone.

Go ahead…call me a Nazi.

10 thoughts on “Ethics Notes: Santa, the Senate, and Snow

  1. Ok. Nazi. 🙂 Kidding, of course.

    Seriously, it’s a sad state of affairs when giant bills are passed without anyone knowing what they contain. Today, it was exposed that there is language in the bill that effectively rewrites the rules of the Senate, forbidding repeal or even amendment of the Health Care bill without a 2/3 majority.

    In other words, the Democrats are not just seeking to pass this legislation, but also to give it the effect of a Constitutional amendment.

    Just one of many surprises, I fear — to both parties, and for us.

    Don’t you love Christmas surprises?

    • Bob, I WATCHED the speech. It was character assassination by association. Using the Birthers and “Aryan” references were meant, clearly, to suggest that the Republican opposition to the health care bill was based on the racist motives of their extreme base, and that, honestly, is despicable. Thoughtful? The speech was flat-out dishonest. The Senate and the House came up with awful bills, and decided to push them through for naked political reasons—to get their president a “win” because he staked so much on getting “health care reform” passed, even if it wasn’t good, effective, affordable or responsible reform—although 1) the Democratic Senators have only a vague idea what’s in the damn things 2) they are guaranteed budget-busters—read Lindsay Graham’s absolutely fair assessment of the cynical “future cuts” used to make the figures balance and 3) they specifically violate several of the President’s “promises.”
      Playing the race card every time this president steps in a mess is a truly revolting tactic; Harry Reid already used it with this round, Whitehouse picked up the theme, and it is obviously part of the Democrat spin playbook. He had no business suggesting that opposition to the bill was anything but principled. Your post brushes off the fact that Whitehouse listed the lunatic fringe in the GOP, but why did he do that? What did that have to do with anything, unless he was implying–and he was—that these wackos exemplified the driving motives of the GOP. Yes, I’d like to see the Republicans explicitly tell their hard core base to get a brain transplant, but until I also see the responsible Democrats tell the Truthers, race-baiters, Michael Moores, Al Sharptons and other hucksters and deranged fanatics in their camp to shut up, Whitehouse can’t be defended with your argument, which is, essentially, “the Republicans deserve this for accepting their support.” The Democrats had Moore at their convention. Obama had Van Jones in the White House. I agree that the Republicans are cowardly not to reject the nuts, but they have hardly been worse in this regard than the Democrats. They can be legitimately criticized, but not by Whitehouse, who panders to left-wing crazies as much as anyone, and not in the context of opposing an irresponsible bill.

      The speech is unfair and uncivil in a vacuum. But when one looks at the manner in which the bill was passed, and its bloated, convoluted content, Whitehouse’s indignation is also offensive. It’s a sloppy, irresponsible piece of legislation, and he KNOWS it. Which is more unethical…voting FOR a bad bill you haven’t read, or voting AGAINST a bad bill you haven’t read? That’s an easy one.
      Whitehouse’s gall is beyond belief, and he should be called on it. The Wash, Times headline was misleading, but it was also exactly what Whitehouse wanted some of his audience to take from his speech.

    • That link is broken, but I clicked your name and got there.

      I’m sorry, Bob, but I find your reasoning unconvincing on at least two fronts. Quoth you:

      “Whitehouse clearly did NOT say—or mean—what the headline said. He said that the Republicans had ardent supporters who…etc. But so few Republicans distance themselves from the fanatics, and so many embrace their bile, that it’s almost tempting to accuse Whitehouse of understatement.”

      The part accusing the Republicans of essentially embracing “…birthers, right-wing militias, aryan groups” as suggested in the WSJ headline is just hyperbole. The same thing could be said, with equal defensibility about the Democrats and their fringes, but would be just as wrong.

      Second, Senator Whitehouse’s characterization of Republican opposition as “malignant and vindictive” is simply unfair, hence unethical. Just as unethical as the Republicans characterizing the Democrat opposition to the war as un-American.

      Not only that, after having listened to his speech, it is clear that Senator Whitehouse unquestionably intended to tie Republican intentions to pure bigotry. That is an unambiguous, contextual fact.

      The WSJ lede was certainly unclear. The so-called “…birthers, right-wing militias, aryan groups” may very well oppose health care, but Whitehouse’s point was that they oppose Obama himself, for bigoted reasons, and the Republican opposition should be seen as giving these bigots succor.

      That’s wrong. That’s unethical. That’s just like calling principled opposition to the Iraq war un-American.

  2. Glenn, wouldn’t the Supreme Court strike that down? Forgive me for not being college-educated, but it seems like defying the Constitution’s rules on the legislature would result in an unconstitutional, and ergo, null bill.

    • The Supreme Court runs away from cases that would impact how the Senate does its business. They have no interest in telling Congress how to make their sausage.

      More likely, the Senate will attempt to ignore it if the other party ever comes back into power. This is largely unprecedented, and as such, is likely not to stand in the end, but who really knows? There are probably many ways to skin this cat that I don’t know.

      Still, the hubris of including such a provision is gravely disturbing, no matter which party put it in.

    • Chase: yes. That provision is ridiculous, and sure never to make it into the final bill. There is no such thing as a law that can’t be repealed. And yes, any Senator voting for legislation with a provision like that should be ashamed of himself or herself—right, Bob Stone?

      • I don’t think the Supreme Court would strike it down, unless the Senate sued on the grounds that one Congress cannot engage in prior restraint on another.

        I doubt if it would get that far, and the Supreme Court is notorious for refusing to hear cases about how the Congress legislates.

        But then again, they are fearless about dealing with WHAT they legislate, so maybe you’re right.

  3. Glenn, the Supremes really do hate end-arounds the Constitution, historically. It’s a null provision, essentially, but if anyone was dumb enough to try to enforce it, the vote to knock it down would be 9-0.

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