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.