Comment of the Day: “Ethics Dunce: Rep. Michele Bachman”

Oh, how I LOVE LOVE LOVE this comment, from “ruralcounsel,” regarding my post about Michele Bachmann embarrassing herself, and not for the first time. Seldom does a commenter employ such shameless rationalizations and staples of intellectual dishonesty, and for his grand finale, he breaches one of the explicit Comment Policies by employing that all-purpose fallacy, “you’re just using ethics to go after political enemies.” I’m especially happy about the latter, because no one has accused me of being biased against the Right since “Ronbo.” I can’t hope for as much entertainment from ruralcounsel, but I am certainly grateful for this (Forgive me. I have to give interlinear commentary. I can’t resist):

“Seems to me that this is on par with Obama’s 57 states comment. A simple error or slip of the tongue.”

[Comment: Somebody at Bachmann headquarters clearly sent this in a mass e-mail.  First of all, what another politician did or didn’t do has no impact on how we judge Bachmann’s conduct. Yes, Obama’s gaffe was indeed a slip of the tongue. Bachmann knew she was in New Hampshire, a traditional testing ground for aspiring presidential nominees, and knowing where she was, “the shot heard round the world” should not have come to mind at all. If she had said, “Here I am, where 186 courageous Americans died for liberty at the Alamo!”, that wouldn’t be a slip, either. And as I said, Bachmann’s mistake is particularly unforgivable for a leader of the Tea Party, which regularly hectors us about 18th Century American history. If Obama’s strange 57 states comment had been given to a geography convention, I’d be harder on him, too. JM.]

“And my recollection about the Christine O’Donnell “error” was in fact, that she was literally correct about the wording “separation of church and state” not appearing in the First Amendment. That was pointed out early on, and there is no justification for you to repeat the error that is she ignorant about the Bill of Rights wording, especially at this late date.”

[ Comment: ruralcounsel has something of a reading problem. I didn’t specify which of O’Donnell’s many howlers I was referring to, so his last sentence is a non sequitur.]

“These days, the “live free or die” state has more in common with 1775 Massachusetts than does the contemporary Bay State. So if factually mistaken, at least it is philosophically consistent.”

[Comment: Isn’t this wonderful?? By this logic, if she made the same statement in, say, Utah, he would argue that it was justified.JM]

“Hardly a matter of ethics or lack thereof, BTW. Except as it applies to you. The more I look at this blog, the more I realize that it is just a pretense for criticizing political opponents and calling it a matter of ethics. When in fact, ethics has very little to do with it. Perhaps you need reminding that ethics is not a surrogate for your personal political opinions.”

[Comment: On a more serious note, it would not be possible for me to be more mindful of the need for objectivity when writing an ethics blog that must examine politically controversial issues in a politically polarized time. Even then I don’t always succeed. But my original field was leadership character, and I feel strongly about elected leaders who are lazy, ignorant, illiterate, careless, arrogant, sloppy, ambitious, irresponsible and loud. Bachmann has given conservatives, Republicans and Tea Party members a bad name by her recklessness, and appears to have a learning curve flatter than an Ashley Simpson performance. Her defenders, like rc, just make her worse. JM]

10 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “Ethics Dunce: Rep. Michele Bachman”

  1. Fair enough. I did recant that accusation though, before reading your note above. Glad you’re getting some amusement value from it though.

    The rest of it I stand by, despite your own rationalizations.

  2. “Somebody at Bachmann headquarters clearly sent this in a mass e-mail. First of all, what another politician did or didn’t do has no impact on how we judge Bachmann’s conduct. ”

    I wouldn’t know about any mass emails, but you seem to be jumping to conclusions without data. And in my case you are mistaken. Though I admit I had to Google how many states he’d said, just to fact-check. Just saying. But I suppose it always helps one’s ego to play the “their organization is after me” paranoia card.

    And how is not knowing haw many states there currently are not relevant to someone running for President? Seems like more than a geographical goof. More rationalization, methinks.

    And if what other politicians have done is irrelevant, why bring up O’Donnell or Palin the way you did? You can’t have it both ways.

    • I didn’t raise the other ladies to say Bachmann was better or worse,just to suggest that she wasn’t alone. Obama’s gaffe and Bachmann’s are separate, and don’t effect each other’s one way or the other.

      I think Palin was correct to use the 57 gaffe to show the media’s double standard. But nobody thought Obama didn’t know how many states there were, and nobody was misinformed as a result of what he said. It was not a matter of failed preparation. Bachmann’s raises a prima facie case of ignorance and laziness that Obama’s does not.

  3. “I feel strongly about elected leaders who are lazy, ignorant, illiterate, careless, arrogant, sloppy, ambitious, irresponsible and loud.”

    You mean there is another kind?

  4. [ Comment: ruralcounsel has something of a reading problem. I didn’t specify which of O’Donnell’s many howlers I was referring to, so his last sentence is a non sequitur.]

    Perhaps you would be so kind as to point out the one you meant then. I referenced the only mistatement of fact I was aware of that had made the news. Yeah, she said some silly things about playing witch in high school, but I don’t see that one as relevant to this situation.

  5. …and for his grand finale, he breaches one of the explicit Comment Policies by employing that all-purpose fallacy, “you’re just using ethics to go after political enemies.”

    While I admit I made the error, care to point out this breach of explicit comment policy? I only see where you reserve the right to express annoyance about it. Which you have done, I might add. Perhaps you meant to say “implied” policy?

    It had seemed to me at the time as if it were true. But now? Political motivation? Not so much, based on the broader number of posts I’ve looked at. Conclusions should be supported by the data; as I got more data, the conclusion changed. (And no, I don’t feel I have to read all your posts first, or even do word searches for a laundry list of potential topics. You aren’t THAT important. But hey, that’s my risk of sampling error.) I still feel there is some flaw in what and how you choose to discuss some topics, and will continue to criticize where it seems criticism is due. (With your permission, of course. It is your site after all.)

    Perhaps we just have a different philosophy. Absolute ethics, i.e. a lie is unethical no matter how favorable the consequences and should therefore be condemned, is philosophically neat and tidy, but I think untenable as a way of living one’s life. Perhaps I prefer pragmatism to consistency? Is it wrong to lie to your enemies? Should we treat all society as non-enemies? To whom do we owe an duty of ethical behavior? Everyone? Your “Unethical Rationalizations and Misconceptions” section condemns the slippery slope argument, yet an astounding amount of our legal holdings, rules of law, and foreign policy are based upon the realization that there is a balancing test going on, and neither extreme is the right result in all circumstances. If your ethics are that absolute, and that fearful of bad ethical habit building (it’s own form of a slippery slope argument, I note) then I wonder what practical use it is. It shouldn’t be a suicide pact. Perhaps ethics is in fact, a neutral science; e.g. lying is sometimes good and sometimes bad. Even if it is always ‘unethical’. But I think “unethical” implies a more fundamental flaw in someones personality or character.

    Did Bachmann err? Sure. Was it an ethical mistake? I can’t see how, unless you are willing to call all mistatements unethical, but clearly you weren’t. Is perfection the new standard by which we evaluate everyone’s ethics? Is every mistake now an ethical lapse, because we all owe each other perfection? I fear this approach makes ethics useless.

    As for political ‘leaders’ and their special duty of competence, I fear that is neither reasonable nor possible in a democratically elected republic. (Darn that pragmatic streak!) The citizenry is imperfect, as are the people we elect to represent us, and the government in which they serve. The whole institution of elected power virtually guarantees that politicians are imperfect. Perfection being unattainable, does effort become our ethical yardstick? Must we infer her efforts from the facts surrounding the event? Competence? Then why have elections? Why not just appoint the most competent persons?

    Bachmann, if she owes any special electoral duties, does so only to the people of the state of Minnesota, not anyone else. But let’s play by your rules. Did Bachmann’s statement violate any of your three listed duties? You say yes. I don’t see how, in any substantive way. Why attribute something to unethical behavior when stupidity or mistake will suffice? Is one of us mistaken, and therefore unethical?

    I think it is much more polite and good to attribute her error to error than to lack of ethics. But it then becomes a rather mundane non-story, good for a smirk and a guffaw. Hardly worth mentioning. To quote one of your comments “A needless comment that is hurtful …is, in fact, unethical.”

  6. I find the position that elected officials do not have minimum duty to appear competent, informed, trustworthy and credible hard to comprehend. Every time a high elected official does or says something objectively stupid—like this—it reduces faith in democracy and respect for government, encouraging disrespect for the laws. I’ll go one step more: it is unethical to run for office without committing to the diligence and study necessary to appear, as well as be, competent. The argument that “this isn’t ethics” stuns me.

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