Ethics Dunce: President Barack Obama

I am old-fashioned, I guess: I really do not like to criticize this President, or any president, for being intentionally unethical. His is the most difficult job in the world, and requires more ethical dilemmas, more trading off of interests, and more responsibility, than a human being can be fairly expected to navigate with anything approaching perfection. Balancing the interlocking requirements of politics and leadership alone are virtually guaranteed to create ethical missteps

President Obama’s direct campaign appeal in his just-released video to “young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and women who powered our victory in 2008 [to] stand together once again” has to be criticized, however, because it is clumsy, offensive, a startling breach of integrity and a dangerous one at this time in America’s history. More than that, it has to be condemned.

This is a President who vaulted to national prominence on the strength of an inspiring speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, by saying,

“…to  those who are preparing to divide us–the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of ‘anything goes.’ Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America–there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America–there’s the United States of America.”

Now, facing tough mid-term elections in part due to his own mistakes, the leader who vowed to unite America is deliberately dividing it, appealing directly to gender, race, ethnic and generational divisions. In embarrassing efforts to spin this collapse of integrity and principle, some media outlets have disgraced themselves by spinning Obama’s statement to be nothing more than, as the Washington Post headlined it, “an appeal to new voters.” Really? And if a Republican President, say, George W. Bush, had said before the 2006 Congressional elections,

“It will be up to each of you to make sure that seniors, Whites, Anglo-Americans and men, who powered our victory in 2004, stand together once again”—the exact words Obama used, but with different groups referenced— would the Post have described this as merely “an appeal to traditional voters”? No, of course not. The Post, and the New York Times, and all the other news media that are desperately trying to bolster the popularity of the current president even if it requires outright deceit, would call such a statement an inexcusable appeal to racism, bigotry, sususpicion and generational conflict—and they would be right.

President Obama’s historic election came in part because of his projection of fairness, decency, and good will. If he really thinks that appealing directly to group divisions within this country can be squared with those virtues, he is less unethical than he is a fool. No matter how divided America may be ideologically, its leader must always act as though there is one United States of America, with him dedicated to the interests of all its citizens equally. He had the right idea in 2004, and that was the individual and set of principles America thought it was electing in 2008.

Seldom has a national leader squandered so much trust and hope so quickly, so recklessly, and at a more perilous time. Every citizen, regardless of party affiliation or ideology, should pray that he finds a way to regain it.

It had better be soon.

10 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: President Barack Obama

  1. The real irony about this is that, while being unethical in his politics, Obama is now telling the truth about where he’s always been… from the get-go. Of course, he now has no choice, having painted himself into a corner.

    • If so, it’s the wrong corner. I continue to believe that he’s getting horrible advice, and that all political advisors—Rove, Axelrod, etc.—need to be banned from every White House. This is “appeal to the base” at its dead level worse. This video will haunt him for ever.

  2. At some point, you have to stop blaming ‘bad advisors’. The president is the one who appointed the advisors and is taking the advice. If the president doesn’t realize what is wrong with this and his other missteps, then the real problem is that he had no understanding of the American people past his own little clique.

    This is not the first statement he has made that made people think that his previous assertion that he would be president of all Americans was just pre-election bluster. When an analysis of the recession came out and it was found that almost half (over 45%) of the jobs lost in the recession were from white males, the president issued a statement that the government needed to create more jobs for women and minorities. It looks really blatant when the headlines are right next to each other:
    “White males almost half jobs lost in recession”
    “More jobs for women and minorities needed, President says”.

  3. Every President is 100% responsible for what he does and says, no matter who advises it. But I do think Presidents are pulled so many ways and are so over-scheduled that it is easy for them to just read what they are given, especially with a purely political speech like this one. Would I expect a President who really abhorred divisiveness to throw a speech playing the race, gender, ethnic and generational cards simultaneously out the window? I would. But Obama seems to be at his worst when he has to react quickly.

    Yes, I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt here, because the alternative is just too depressing.

  4. I’m inclined to cut him a bit of ethical slack. He’s following traditional Dem politics, which has been–for as long as I can remember–appeal to interest groups: this for blacks, that for native Americans, the other for the teachers union, etc. Bad, but in line with the old rules of the game (Which Obama promised to change). The Republicans do comparably bad things.

    So he’s no worse than anybody else. Still sad, because we need a leader who does better.

    Worse than throwing at a batter’s head

    • OOH, boy, that’s a pretty desperate defense. We both know “everybody does it” and “the other guys do it too” are traditional and bogus rationalizations for bad conduct, but they are particularly bad for leader who owes his position to convincing pledges NOT to do what everybody does, because (he once said) that caused the problem he was elected to fix. I don’t think “business as usual” and “I’m just doing what they do” is available to such a leader.

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