Unethical Quote of the Week: President Obama

“Some of what I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin, where they’re just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally, seems like more of an assault on unions. I think everybody’s got to make some adjustments, but I think it’s also important to recognize that public employees make enormous contributions to our states and our citizens.”

—-President Obama, commenting on Wisconsin’s budget balancing measures, which will include ending collective bargaining by some public employee unions.

"Ladies and gentlemen...The President of the United States!"

This an abuse of power. No doubt about it.

For all his vaunted intellect, the President has displayed a stunningly flat learning curve in acknowledging and respecting the limits of Presidential influence, otherwise known as “sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong” or “shooting of your mouth about something that is none of your damn business.” In less than three years in office, he has…

  • …interfered with Cambridge, Mass. law enforcement, in the infamous Gates affair.
  • …opined on the allocation of liability for a mine disaster while the matter was still being investigated.
  • …prematurely pronounced BP liable for the Gulf Oil disaster before the matter had been duly investigated or litigated.
  • …gotten involved with a local dispute in New York City over the propriety of placing a prominent Islamic center near the site of the 9-11 attacks.
  • …commented derisively on an Arizona law, misrepresenting its provisions in the process.
  • …criticized radio talk show hosts by name for exercising their rights of free speech
  • …criticized a U.S. Supreme Court decision, misrepresenting that too.

Now he’s telling a state how to balance its budget, although he is not as familiar with the fiscal realities of that state as those charged with managing them, and though the Wisconsin electorate was properly alerted to the likelihood that Wisconsin state employees would have to sacrifice as part of the budget balancing process before they voted in a Republican governor and state legislator last November.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

All of the earlier examples of unsolicited interference were an abuse of his office and influence. This one is arguably the worst of all. President Obama has no information that could justify assumptions about Governor Scott Walker’s plan, which will require state employees to start paying some, not all, of pension benefits that are far more generous than the average private sector employee receives. Wisconsin has a balanced budget mandate in the state constitution; isn’t it reasonable to assume that this is the motivation behind his efforts to cut back on the state employee benefits, rather than wanting to “assault” unions, you know…just to be mean? Rather than trying to turn public opinion against a responsible governor willing to brave the storm and actually make meaningful changes in the budget (that is, the kind that hurt and make interest groups angry), the President would be advised to tend to his own deficit management responsibilities. Governor Walker might be a good role model: for example, unlike Obama, he has never complained that the huge deficit he inherited was the fault of his predecessor.

Whatever the merits or deficiencies of the Wisconsin plan, the President of the United States is not a pundit, a blogger, an advice columnist, a consultant, a judge, a dictator, Mr. Know-It-All, or King. He is the leader of the nation and the federal government, with tremendous power to move public opinion on matters within his ambit of authority. That is a lot, but it isn’t everything. And because every statement by the President of the United States carries the weight of his high office, he can not responsibly shoot from the hip on any matter under the sun…especially state governance. Doing so, as he does habitually, shows a lack of respect for the responsibilities and authority of others, a lack of regard for proper process, a lack of fairness, and an ego bigger than the great outdoors.

No wonder Mrs. Obama thinks she is entitled to tell other women how to breastfeed. Meddling runs in the family.

29 thoughts on “Unethical Quote of the Week: President Obama

  1. Isn’t Barack Obama just using the Presidency as a bully pulpit to weigh in on how the world ought to be, as presidents since Teddy Roosevelt (and before) have done?

    • No. That is not what the “bully pulpit” is for—it is for directing public opinions on national issues, not specific incidents and controversies. He may not attack individual citizens, and try to turn the public against them, for example. He may not try to use his influence to make state policy.

      • So, the president is not supposed to step in and right wrongs when he sees them, but he is supposed to pardon people.

        Who else is not supposed to influence state policy? Congress? Officials of other states? I don’t get it.

        • I get it—you think he’s Green Lantern. He’s supposed to “right wrongs”? Really? Tell us who should win the Tonys? Tell me who to hire? Tell a diner what to serve? We have a Federal government system, and the President does not have general authority over the states. State fiscal policy is no more his business than it is mine.

          • Obama, and all other presidents should clearly not support local candidates. Mentioning any accomplishments of the states? It’s not his job to pass judgment on what the states do.

            This isn’t right-left content based, but it is positive-negative content based. It doesn’t make sense.

        • The pardon power is in the Constitution. That’s the difference. The Constitution also says that any power not given to the Feds stays in the states. POTUS is a federal office. Obama knows all this…he just ignores it.

          • There are also federal laws that regulate union formation and the relationships between unions and governments/businesses, right? And those fall under the control of the Executive branch of the federal government, right?

            Should the AG of the state of Maryland not come out and say it’s legal to videotape police officers in the course of their public duties?

            • No, those laws fall under the courts, and state laws, which are applicable to the current situation in Wisconsin, are outside the power of the Executive.

              And the answer is: the Maryland AG can state the state’s position on legality as it applies to MD, but the courts ultimately decide.

    • Let’s think of it this way—he has a cannon. Whatever he does or says, the cannon goes off. There are a lot of things he can aim the cannon at, but because it is a cannon, he can’t do it off-the cuff, dealing from ignorance, in anger, or into someone else’s property. Worst non-Obama example I can think of? George H.W. Bush weighing in on the Rodney King beating based on media reports. Poisoned the jury pool, and warped the due process of law.

      • And do you have any reason to believe he hasn’t been informed on the situation in Wisconsin?

        I agree that there are times when Obama appears to speak without fully weighting the results, but I don’t see any reason to believe this is one of them.

        • Sure I do—because he’s over his head as it is, and has not had time to review the applicable laws in Wis., or read the sate constitution, or look at the state’s finances. If he HAS taken time to do research regarding something that is outside his authority, that raises other objections. And his statement was, as phrased, a value judgment based on pure speculation as to motive.

  2. I don’t recall the voters of Wisconsin voting Obama into the governorship; he has no business meddling in a state issue. Of course, what else can one expect of a president who acts as if he doesn’t believe that the federal government has any limitations?

  3. It “is” a national issue, Jack. And President Obama should have made an even stronger statement. That’s what leaders do.

    • By that standard, anything is a national issue. The President diminshes his authority by misusing it, and this is misuse. You really find that statement to be substantive and constructive? It is called “kibbitzing.” And it’s disrespectful and arrogant. Good leaders lead what they are supposed to lead. They don’t get in the way of other leaders doing their jobs.

      This issue isn’t unions, though I know the Democrats are “owned” by them. The issue is doing what is necessary to bring budgets into line…and this isn’t Obama’s budget.

      All these comments seem to prove is that a lot of people don’t know what the President’s job is.

  4. Along a separate but related vein, I am hopelessly curious about the AWOL Wisconsin state senators. My gut cries “foul” on their behavior. It seems to me that hiding in another state to stop a vote cannot be a legitimate technique akin to something like the–usually unpopular–US Senate filibuster.

    Having stated such an opinion, though, can it be possible that their behavior is appropriate, even ethical? I don’t much care whether or not it’s legal, but I’d like to know who thinks it may be right.

    • Of course it’s unethical. The fact that a legislative body doesn’t like what the vote is going to be doesn’t justify its sabotaging the process, does it? This isn’t like a filibuster, because a filibuster is in the Rules of the Senate. Not showing up to stall the process is an abrogation of duty. It’s only appropriate and ethical if an unequivocal, inarguable wrong was going to be perpetrated, and while the policy being right or wrong may be a matter of debate, this is hardly a slam dunk either way. In a state that’s broke, teachers getting 100,000 dollar salaries and 20,000 in yearly health care benefits (if true) can certainly be expected to scream at the prospect of losing it, but they can be faulted for thinking they are entitled to it ad infinitum.

  5. First, until Obama can even appear to do his job as chief executive of the United States, he ought to leave the individual states alone. This is the “United” States, not a UNION of States. And there’s a difference. The cultures, populations, geography, products, and manners of each state vary pretty wildly, and have since each’s inception. (Cause or effect?) To butt in as each state tries — valiantly or not — to solve STATE problems, is not the President’s business, unless he believes they are breaking Federal Law. And if the latter is true, then he has an entire Justice Department to deal with that directly.

    Second, we all know (really, we do) why he said what he said about the unions in Wisconsin. Nationally, unions of various types have been his biggest and most loyal political and monetary supporters. (Though why union dues can be spent on political campaigns of any kind remains beyond me.)

    Let the Wisconsin teachers scream and yell. “Make a contribution to our own retirement? Yikes! Unfair!” Well, join the real world, folks. Until or unless states like New York take their teachers’ unions to task (N.B., the “warehousing” of hundreds of unfit teachers who do nothing all day and at full salary because under union rules they can’t be fired), or states like Virginia figure out how to get rid of teachers who manage to put their grandest high schools in the bottom 5% in achievement, I really won’t have much sympathy.

    I know there are good teachers out there… dedicated, able, important. But, largely because of union rules, one can hardly single them out from the great pack of others who teach because they can’t survive in the private sector.

    Get rid of the lazy, ineffectual ones. Hire others. Pay them more. But make them accountable. That’s the crux of it. This is like stage hands on Broadway making $200,000 a year because of the power of THEIR union, and people decrying the price of theater tickets and the dearth of new creativity on the Great White Way.

    Obama (and Mrs. Obama) should stick to the guidelines of the Executive Branch. Opining on current law suits, individual states’ economic fixes, individual family eating habits, and BREAST-FEEDING for God’s sake, are not in their job descriptions.

    Hey, maybe Obama should have been there when they read the Constitution aloud in Congress. It sure doesn’t seem like he’s read it himself.

  6. There is considerable evidence that there is no real budget crisis at all, or, if there is, that it was created only by the governor’s newly-enacted tax cuts for the usual suspects. Some of the sourcing on this makes this information less than entirely reliable (qv. recent conversations about the credibility of some news outlets), but there are some official state documents which make one at least skeptical of the governor’s claim. (At the very least, it’s silly to give Gov. Walker credit for not complaining that the deficit he inherited was created by his predecessor if there wasn’t a deficit). If these arguments are to be believed, and they strike me as at least plausible, then the President’s characterization of events in Wisconsin is accurate.

    Actually, of course, it’s technically accurate, anyway–the same way President Bush’s central rationale for the Iraq War was accurate (“British intelligence believes…”; that we weren’t smart enough to wonder why British rather than American intelligence was suddenly being foregrounded is our problem). Note the presence of “some of what I’ve heard,” “I think” (twice), and “seems like.”

    Unlike some of the other examples you cite, this does indeed appear to be “unsolicited” commentary, but I’m more than a little uncomfortable with the notion that everyone in the country has freedom of speech except the POTUS. You and I can, and did, “butt in” about a tenure revocation case in Delaware about which we can’t possibly know all the facts, but Mr. Obama can’t opine about something that really is an assault on unions (perhaps a jusitifiable assault, but an assault nonetheless)?

    Was he really not allowed to voice an opinion on responsibility for the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico until… when? BP admitted culpability? the Congressional investigation was complete? the final lawsuit is settled however many years into the future? Answering a direct question about the Park51 project was “abuse of power”? Really?

    That said, I’m with you completely on the actions of the state legislators, and indeed on the President’sactions as opposed to his words. I find the following sentence from the Washington Post story you link quite troubling, for example: “The president’s political machine worked in close coordination Thursday with state and national union officials to mobilize thousands of protesters to gather in Madison and to plan similar demonstrations in other state capitals.” That, to me, crosses a line of intrusion that stating an opinion does not.

    • I’ve seen the reports about the Wisconsin budget crisis being phony. I’ll wait and see, buy given that almost all the states are in deep water and Wisconsin public workers are unusually well paid, I’m skeptical.

      Yes, it is absolutely unfair and an abuse of power for the leader of a nation to weigh in regarding guilt or innocence, liability or not, before such an issue is litigated. You know why. It makes a fair trial much more difficult, and assumed bad guys, like BP, should have the same right as you are I, not to have POTUS start saying what the truth is,

      It is certainly not a First Amendment issue. We all have the right to make jackass, irresponsible statements. But the President’s comments do more damage, and a leader is supposed to have more sense and fairness, not to mention self-control.

      And common sense.

      • By this reasoning, any president running for re-election against a sitting governor would be enjoined from commenting on his opponent’s record in office. That just doesn’t make sense. And I still fail to see how simply being the president makes one inherently more likely to taint a jury pool than anyone else with a following would: Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, Sarah Palin… Jack Marshall. There have been presidents who’d make me more likely to believe X if they argued for it, presidents who’d make me strongly suspect not-X, and presidents whose commentary wouldn’t affect me in the slightest. Surely I’m not along in that?

        • Campaigns are directed at candidate’s records, and the purpose of citing state affairs then is not related to influencing state policy. I don’t think its a great analogy.As zillion studies show that the sitting President is the most influential with his opinion. Classic cognitive dissonance. We don’t want the Pope weighing in on trials, either…and he doesn’t.

  7. What is unethical is for a governor to cut corporate taxes and then suddenly feel the need to balance the state’s budget on the backs of public sector workers, as the governor of Wisconsin has done in his first month in office. Public sector employment IS becoming a national issue and deserves the President’s attention. The public employees have made it clear that their main complaint is not pension or health care contributions. The main issue is their ability to negotiate these aspects of their employment.
    The most ethical thing a politician can do is tell me how he or she feels about issues of the day, so that I know whether to vote for them again. I am glad that President Obama has stated his position; the governor and the people of Wisconsin can heed it or ignore it. But Walker said nothing about his plans to restrict public employees’ bargaining power in his campaign, and that is unethical. I bet a whole bunch of firefighters, police officers and nurses would not have voted for him if they’d known.

    And Michelle Obama is not telling women how to breastfeed. She is making it easier for women to do so who choose to do so. It is accepted medical fact that breast fed babies are healthier. Good grief, I thought conservatives liked lower taxes, but making breast pump equipment tax deductable is suddenly government intrusion. If Laura Bush had suggested this, they would be gushing their brains out. And this is not a move that favors working women over stay at home moms. When I stayed home with my second child, I used my breast pump all the time for when we had a babysitter, or so I could leave my husband in charge (or he could get up in the night!). It would also save the government money they are now spending on formula through programs like WIC. This is pure partisanship and is a non issue.

    • Sorry Jan, this comment is an ethical mess. 1. Whether or not the Wisconsin Governor is ethical has ZERO to do with the post on Obama’s abuse of his power. One cannot justify the other. 2. The President,as i said, is not a pundit, and he has no right to use his power to manipulate public sentiments about state issues, municipal issues, or matters of personal conduct. The fact that those who might benefit from his meddling are grateful for it doesn’t excuse it—they, and you, are biased. 3. You cannot be seriously suggesting, in the same post defending this President, that there is an ethical obligation to have disclosed during the campaign everything one ultimately does after being elected!!! Anyway, that is absurd, and if you think two seconds about it, you’ll know it’s absurd.

      4, 5, 6, and 7. Breast pumps are partisan now? Please. Michelle Obama is not a doctor, not a nutritionist, and there is mixed research about the effect of bottle feeding on obesity, her purported goal. Women have the “right to choose,” but now how to nurse their baby, as the First Lady dares to declare what the “right way” is, and the government misuses tax breaks to pressure their choices? Absolutely outrageous—arrogant, intrusive, presumptuous, and offensive. If you read the article linked, you saw that the annoyance at Mrs. Big Brother trying to dictate this behavior is bi-partisan, as it should be. American are smart enough to nurse their children without the Obama imprimatur. I think she may be a secret agent of the Tea Parties, because if anything proves their point about excessive government involvement in our lives, this kind of intrusion does.

      • I give up. I will admit my bias; admit yours. You obviously dislike this President, and his wife. He has a right to express his opinion on an issue that is taking on national importance. No one is forcing women to nurse if they don’t want to, just encouraging them to do so. I never tried to justify Obama’s behavior with the governor’s, I just pointed out what I thought was unethical. And I think that what Walters did within the FIRST MONTH of his term indicates premeditation. Anyone who links to Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin cannot claim to be objective; they have been proven to be misinformed so many times it makes my head spin. And if you read the article carefully, you will find a conservative who says this is a stupid argument. Please try to find some more legitimate sources; maybe someone with a brain.

        • Who linked to Bachman or Palin? I linked to a Times piece that said that both Left and Right thought the breast feeding initiative was over-reaching. And I do not “dislike” Obama. My original field is presidential leadership; that was my route into ethics. I do not look for ways to criticize him—indeed, I discard about three Obama-themed ideas a week. There is nothing political about this post at all….it would have been the same if Walters was pro-union and Obama criticized his policies then. It’s an implied insult to my integrity to say “you just dislike Obama,” when I quite clearly stated the ethical basis on which I judge Obama to be out of line, and I listed examples of similar conduct in the past that I have written about—though I missed his shooting off his mouth about Kanye West—Presidents should not criticize individuals—and suggesting that LeBron James cinsider signing with the Bulls (minor, but part of a trend.) I dislike this habit of Obama’s intensely, and the fact that a lot of Americans DO think the President is the equivalent of a King makes it more important to say so.

          Your argument was specifically political…you don’t like what Walters is doing, so Obama’s abuse is fine with you. That’s NOT an ethical argument. Mine is. I have no idea whether this tactic is necessary or not; it is certainly a trade-off, and it is certainly something that the union members can reasonably feel mistreated about—from their perspective. I do not see anything unethical about acting quickly or having “premeditated” plans that a candidate doesn’t specify in the campaign. I don’t have to know the details of the Wisconsin balance sheet to know, however, that using schoolkids as props in a political dispute is unethical, that teachers walking off the job to protest, hurting their students, is unethical, and that legislators ducking their duties to avoid a democratic vote they will lose is outrageously unethical. All of these would be assessed the same way if the political poles were reversed. There’s no bias.

  8. I’m with you on this one, Jack. Wisconsin is a state, and this is clearly a state matter. It is the job of the governor and legislature of Wisconsin to deal with it. They are doing that, and can do it better without POTUS looking over their shoulders. If Wisconsin does well, great job, and we all learn a thing or two. If they do poorly, not good and hopefully they go back to the drawing board—and we all learn a thing or two.
    It’s called Federalism: the states are labs where laws and policies can be tried out, tested, and otherwise have the bugs worked out. (And the rest of us can learn from that.) It also allows for different strokes for different folks, because what works well in Wisconsin may work less well in, say, Missouri. It’s a valuable part of the democratic process of our country. Let’s have a little faith in Wisconsin and let them work out their own problems in their own ways.

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