Of Presidents Day, Atticus, a Congressman’s Dilemma and Serial Moms

Short Alarms:

  • With increasing numbers of young Americans knowing embarrassingly little about our nation’s past, the wrong-headedness of President’s Day rankles worse than ever. Rather then designate the February birthdays of our two greatest presidents—Washington, the “indispensable man” who made the United States a reality, and Lincoln, the brilliant leader/philosopher who kept it from tearing apart—as yearly commemorations of their remarkable lives and our debt to them, Congress lumped them into a generic “Presidents Day,” thereby demonstrating that it deemed a three-day weekend and consumer merchandise sales more important than our heritage. Worst of all for ethics fans, George, who “wouldn’t tell a lie,” and Honest Abe are the only U.S. Presidents remembered for their truthfulness. Yet here they are, forced to share their “day” with the likes of Woodrow Wilson, Harding, J.F.K, L.B.J., Tricky Dick and Bill Clinton. The right thing to do would be to go back to celebrating February 12 and 22. Washington and Lincoln deserve it, and so do the values they stood for.
  • Speaking of ethics icons, one of my wife’s favorites,”To Kill A Mockingbird’s” Atticus Finch, has been under attack in some quarters for being passively acquiescent in the Jim Crow morality that convicts his black client despite overwhelming evidence that he is innocent. Lance McMillian defends Atticus, especially against the accusations of Malcolm Gladwell, in a new paper available here.
  • Taking her cue from The Washington Times, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow used her appearance on “Meet the Press” to accuse Republican Congressman Aaron Schock of dishonestly seeking stimulus package funds for local pork-barrel spending while publicly condemning the expenditures as fiscally irresponsible. It is hard to argue against Schock’s defense, however. His is really a version of a classic dilemma: is it ethical to take advantage of a policy or measure that you believe is wrong, and opposed? Whatever the options may be when one is personally getting the benefit of such a measure, there can be no question that an elected representative has an obligation to make certain that his or her constituents get a fair share of any stimulus package their tax money is paying for, no matter how vigorously the representative opposed it.  Maddow seemed to take special offense at Schock then touting his effectiveness at getting such funding with the voters back home. What, exactly, is the more ethical alternative? Refuse to seek a share of the funds on principle? Get the funds, but tell constituents that he hates himself for it? The supposed hypocrisy is just the two sides of a Congressman’s job. I see no ethics problem here.
  • A story in Britain about a woman whose fourteen children have been taken from her for neglect raised the issue of how tolerant a culture should be of Octomom-types who have large numbers of children that become burdens on taxpayers and the state. Hinted at was the specter of forced sterilization, and the story mentioned the odd case of American Tessa Sevicki. Sevicki is unemployed, on public assistance, yet keeps having babies by different men, eight so far. She was to have a contraceptive device surgically implanted, but the hospital inexplicably performed a tubal ligation instead. Robbed of the ability to have irresponsible pregnancy number nine, she is suing the hospital for damages, and has been shocked that many in the public and media have expressed a lack of sympathy for her, saying that the erring doctors did the community a favor. Having children that you cannot care for is unethical beyond question, but here autonomy trumps irresponsibility: a woman’s ability to have children cannot be ethically taken from her without her consent. Those who favor government regulation to reduce health care costs ought to ponder, however, if that ethical conflict should have a different resolution when limited resources that could be distributed more fairly elsewhere have to be spent to care for an endless stream of  children from one unstable woman. That controversy, however, is for another day…or perhaps for the English.

8 thoughts on “Of Presidents Day, Atticus, a Congressman’s Dilemma and Serial Moms

  1. It’s February 12, Jack, not February 16. I guess I’m able to say that because I actually remember the days when we celebrated both the 12th and 22nd. Abe’s birthday was not a full holiday, at least not in Delaware where I grew up.

    I think you’re wrong about Maddow and the Congressman. He (or if not he, then others) argued first and last that the stimulus didn’t create any jobs. In between, at the ribbon-cuttings, he celebrated the jobs created in his district. That’s hypocrisy. (We’re SHOCKED.) Better to say what he really believes and stick to it.

    • Yikes! You’re right about the date ! SEE what Presidents Day has done??????
      Bob, I think the argument against the stimulus has always been that it was profligate and full of pork, and not that it didn’t create jobs, but didn’t create enough jobs to justify the expense. And I think that’s true, but it shouldn’t stop a Congressman who argued that from applauding the jobs in his Diustrict it does produce. Why not?

  2. I agree with you on separating the dates. Washington was a true hero. I have a much lesser view of Lincoln (maybe it comes from being from Charleston, SC), not because of his his resistance to slavery but because of his abuse of the Constitution.

    I collect Washington postcards from the early 1900’s. During that era, it was common practice to send someone a card on Washington’s birthday. I have quite a few that have a postmark on or near his birthday (Feb. 22). In fact, I recently gave one that I had framed to the Afghan General that I mentor in Kabul. He has it prominently displayed on his office wall.

    I guess postcards have given way to e-mails and blog posts but it is still a day to celebrate the character of the “greatest American!”

    Sheriff Ray Nash
    Police Dynamics Institute

  3. Jack, it’s a respectable argument that the stimulus didn’t create enough jobs to justify the expense. But some make the argument that it didn’t create ANY jobs at all. Those people are being hypocritical when they celebrate stimulus projects.

  4. Bob: I certainly wouldn’t dispute that, although that’s not what Maddow accused Schock of doing, or the GOP generally. She said it was hypocrisy to oppose and vote against the stimulus bill and then seek credit for directing the money to his district. The Times article suggested the same. Your complaint is valid, but my comment was directed to their definition of hypocrisy, which is not.

  5. RE: “President’s Day”

    If you consult the official OPM web site that lists the federal holidays and what day each one is observed, you’ll see that the one that occurs in February is officially called “Washington’s Birthday” (not “President’s Day”) and even includes a little footnote explaining why.


    RE: Stimulus Funds

    Where does Maddow think the “stimulus” money came from? Some of it was paid for by Schock’s constituents–it’s THEIR MONEY in the first place. Getting some of it back for them is akin to arranging a sort of tax cut, and thus not at all hypocritical for a Republican (or more precisely: a fiscal conservative, which Schock may or may not actually be).


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