If President Obama Is So Smart, Why Does He Keep Doing the Same Dumb, Unethical Thing?

I have written before, more than once, about President Obama’s astonishingly flat learning curve regarding what is and is not appropriate subject matter for the nation’s Chief Executive to render public opinions about. Without knowing the facts, he has denigrated a local policeman’s handling of a difficult and racially charged situation; he has rendered opinions on state governance matters that are not the federal government’s proper concern; he has warped public opinion by condemning a state law while misrepresenting its provisions. He has criticized citizen critics and media figures by name, something that is almost unprecedented for a president. He has declared corporations negligent or guilty in matters that had not been fully investigated, before any lawsuits or charges had been filed.  He took sides in a purely local dispute over the location of an Islamic center near the 9/11 scene, and he even injected himself into NBA star Lebron James’ free agency, suggesting that he should consider Obama’s home town Chicago Bulls.

Flat, flat, flat.

Last week, he publicly declared a prisoner guilty of a serious crime for which he has yet to be tried. When he was heckled by supporters of alleged Wikileaks leaker Bradley Manning during a San Francisco fundraiser, the President engaged one of the singing protesters in a brief exchange, including this comment:

“So people can have philosophical views [about Bradley Manning] but I can’t conduct diplomacy on an open source [basis]… That’s not how the world works.  And if you’re in the military… And I have to abide by certain rules of classified information. If I were to release material I weren’t allowed to, I’d be breaking the law. We’re a nation of laws! We don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. [Bradley Manning] broke the law.

I can say Bradley Manning broke the law. You can say it. But for the President of the United States to say it deprives Manning of his right to a fair trial. Manning is likely to be tried by a military tribunal, whose superior, the Commander and Chief, has now declared what their finding should be before any evidence has been considered or a witness has been called.

Obama is President of the United States. He is not King, nor Grand Inquisitor. His opinions carry great influence and weight, and there are two reasons why it is irresponsible to throw them into the public square without consideration of their context, effects or appropriateness,. First, it is an unacceptable abuse of power. Second, it dilutes one of his most powerful leadership tools when a deft use of the bully pulpit is necessary to build public support in a matter of genuine national interest.

 Unethical. Incompetent. Flat. Dumb.

There are many types of intelligence, and clearly Barack Obama possesses some of them in abundance. His leadership instincts, however, remain startlingly inadequate. Presidents who never received the gushing plaudits Obama has for intellectual acumen—his immediate predecessor comes to mind–managed to effortlessly avoid these gaffes. At a certain point, and it may have already been reached, there may be no escaping the conclusion that they are not gaffes at all, but willful and knowing abuses of presidential power.

If not, his former Constitutional law students should probably chuck their notes.

25 thoughts on “If President Obama Is So Smart, Why Does He Keep Doing the Same Dumb, Unethical Thing?

  1. And so, if Obama’s gaffe has deprived Bradley Manning of a fair trial, does that mean there will be no trial. And, if so, does that mean the government can Manning incarcerated until such time as they decide to release him? Or, does it mean that Manning must be freed without a trial? And (this is a stretch, guys), if Manning must be freed without a trial, is there a possibility that Obama is so freaking smart that he outsmarted his military masters in a clever ploy to get Manning free? I hope the latter is true.

          • Sure. International diplomacy is ethically compromised by nature and unavoidably so. Its ethics are one step above warfare, where there is none. Secrecy is vital, and certain to be misused; those who do this dirty and essential job are sure to be compromised. They will make bad, as in wrongful, decisions where the utilitarian system that sustains them is still inadequate to excuse what they do, and right decisions where the calculus is ethically defensible, but just barely. They are complex, controversial decisions that cannot be assessed casually by someone without the experience and knowledge to judge them. Bradley Manning has neither the perspective, not the wisdom, nor the experience, nor the information to judge what communications show unequivocal wrongdoing, and as an American solider had a duty to protect the secrets deemed by his superiors, including the President, to be essential to the national interest. Not only did he presume to place his judgment above duly elected or ratified officials, but he shared the secrets with an enemy of the United States, a preening, Messianic anarchist who is not an American citizen, and whom he knew would do harm to American interests. I am not sure if his actions will support a treason conviction, but I see little difference between selling secrets to foreign interest and giving them to an uncontrollable, irresponsible, America hating jerk like Julian Assange.

            Even if Manning had justified convictions, exercised due care to control which documents were released, and gave them to responsible parties with the best interest of the nation in mind (say, for the sake of argument, the New York Times), he still could only do so ethically by accepting the penalties for his actions. Then it is a form of civil disobedience. Then he would deserve respect, as well as a prison sentence.

            His actual crimes just deserve the sentence.

  2. The fact that he says “We’re a nation of laws!” right before summarily pronouncing an accused guilty takes irony to a level probably not seen since, well, the last time a politician spoke.

  3. First I agree he needs to learns to keep his mouth shut .

    But Manning will not be tried by a tribunal but in a General Courts Martial under the UCMJ.

  4. Obama has, perhaps, a problem with the fact that what he thinks as a GUY, a plain-old dude, doesn’t always jibe with what he’s supposed/allowed to SAY as a Prez. I’d be terrible at this part of the job, as those who know me can attest. But I’d also not touch this particular job with a universe-length pole. Keep naming the gaffes when they occur, but having just read the Teddy quote about the effort, I’m thinking of that as I type…

    • I can’t give Obama a Teddy pass on this kind of thing, Becky. There’s nothing to respect about someone in a job for three years who has yet to understand that his statements can no longer be that of “some guy.” It’s as absurd as Gilbert Gottfried making Japan tsunami jokes when he’s a spokes-duck for a business that get most of its business from Japan. Some gaffes you simply can’t make even once.

  5. Clinton used to be accused of being a narcissist. He might have been! But this goes beyond mere self flattery. This is indicative of a sublime arrogance that is so deep as to overrule even a sense of political viability. Clinton’s sense of this restrained all but his other great weakness- his libido. With Obama, one gets the impression that he believes power over all things is his right and his destiny. If true, then we’re dealing with a mania.

    Obama is clearly an intelligent man. But if he’s one that also lives in a one-man universe, then he represents the most dangerous form of political animal there is. This is where monsters lurk. Again; IF SO, then the only restraints upon him are constitutional. If those fail- what? Admittedly, this takes in a worst case scenario. But the history of our times is replete with worst cases. They just didn’t happen here.

  6. that boy just does not know his place! [sarcasm]

    you said above—”Bradley Manning has neither the perspective, not the wisdom, nor the experience, nor the information to judge what communications show unequivocal wrongdoing, and as an American solider had a duty to protect the secrets deemed by his superiors, including the President, to be essential to the national interest. I am not sure if his actions will support a treason conviction, but I see little difference between selling secrets to foreign interest and giving them to an uncontrollable, irresponsible, America hating jerk like Julian Assange.”

    assumption of guilt—you can express it.
    but, the leader of the free world can’t.
    riiiiight.

    how high up the food chain can one go before a statement by a superior causes an unfair trial with his/her comments? how low? could a general say it? a colonel? a governor? a mayor? what about making senator the cut-off point? whatever…

    • I’m sorry, Gyasi, but you forfeit both respect and credibility by repeatedly using the lazy default defense of implying that any criticism of Obama is racially motivated. It is insulting; it is unjustified; and if you believe it, it is irredeemably stupid. If you don’t believe it, it’s despicable. Your choice.

      The rest of your comment is ignorant. Yes, of course I can say things that the President can not. If you don’t comprehend that, you don’t comprehend power, position, influence, tradition, agency, history,law, or much of anything else. I don’t know why, in the history of the United States, President Obama has expressed more public opinions on matters a President should stay out of than all his predecessors combined. I don’t really care why; someone will write a book about it some day, I’m sure. I care that the President doesn’t appear to comprehend what national leadership means, and what its limitations are. If her weren’t surrounded by advisors who appear to have the same attitude about important aspects of leadership that you do…that is to say, “whatever..”, may he would have learned a bit more by now.

      Your supposed argument isn’t one. I don’t know what the “cut-off” is, because that’s not relevant to the President. HE can’t declare guilt and innocence, because HE represents an entire branch of the Government, which only has three. And, may I add, DUH. Now go ahead and call me a racist, because apparently that’s all you’ve got to offer.

      • The power of the “bully pulpit” is considerable for any head of state. But, because one IS a head of state- and thus speaks for an entire nation, not just himself- that power needs to be exercised sparingly and prudently. Off-the-cuff remarks or words spoken in confusion or anger (or on a basis of arrogant personal bias) can lead to devastating consequences. That includes war, in an historical context. Obama has demonstrated an arbitrary nature which is likely his legacy from his “community organizer” days in Chicago. Someone needs to wake him up to the fact that the White House is not a speaking gig at a union hall on the southside of the Windy City. There’s a little more to it.

  7. Your assessment of Julian Assange –
    enemy of the United States
    preening Messianic anarchist
    not an American citizen
    uncontrollable, irresponsible, America hating jerk

    My assessment of your assessment (thesis/antithesis) –

    enemy of the United States – Jack, are you placing doctrine above morality with that pronouncement?

    “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” Ghandi

    preening Messianic anarchist (For some reason, on first read, my brain slipped in antichrist for anarchist. Are they one and the same, Jack?)

    preening? Comes with the territory, Jack.
    Messianic? Do you mean this… “marked by idealism and an aggressive crusading spirit”? Merriam-Webster
    anarchist? “Unregulated competition is a naive metaphor for anarchy.” John Ralston Saul

    not an American citizen – Are you a Christian, Jack? Just asking.

    uncontrollable, irresponsible, America hating jerk – “A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.” Gandhi [OK, let’s strike the “completely innocent” part. Nobody’s perfect.]

    I very much enjoy reading you, Jack, and I find we agree a good percentage of the time. But this time we are headed down very opposite paths. Perhaps we shall meet on the other side.

    • Poetic comment, but I can’t say I see your logic here…in addition to the fact that whether or not Assange is or isn’t virtuous has nothing to do with Manning’s guilt under the law, and absolutely nothing to do with the post, which was about Obama’s interfering with Manning’s rights.

      “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history,” indeed. This description covers Osama Bin Laden, Mao, John Wilkes Booth and Hitler as well as Gandhi; I don’t see it as particularly helpful. If you want to believe that governments, including governments like ours, which itself has unquenchable faith in its mission, can function effectively with out secrets, be my guest, but it is a belief without support in fact, logic or history. And the belief, if sincere, that throwing all secrets onto the internet and wait to see how chaos theory operates (hint: CHAOTICALLY) will lead to Nirvana violated principles of logic, history and mathematics. You apparently believe that a non-American (who is also an accused rapist,which, while not immediately relevant, gives me, as an ethicist, substantial doubts about his trustworthiness, judgment and character) should be trusted by a US soldier to undermine the decisions of his elected government and superiors on the theory that he, the soldier, has the expertise to know what he’s giving away, and that his ally, the non-American preening egomaniac narcissistic anarchist, has the best interests of the United States in mind because he has created a facilitating device for liars, traitors, and illegal leakers. You’re wandering in the ethical wilderness on this one, and it will take a large search party to bring you back. I hope your canteen is full.

  8. Damn, I can’t help loving your logic, Jack.

    Except, this part… “You apparently believe that a non-American (who is also an accused rapist, which, while not immediately relevant, gives me, as an ethicist, substantial doubts about his trustworthiness, judgment and character) should be trusted by a US soldier to undermine the decisions of his elected government and superiors on the theory that he, the soldier, has the expertise to know what he’s giving away, and that his ally, the non-American preening egomaniac narcissistic anarchist, has the best interests of the United States in mind because he has created a facilitating device for liars, traitors, and illegal leakers.”

    Jack, you are an ethicist? I think you are TRYING to be an ethicist, but, according to the definitions I’ve Googled, I think not.

    Lemme tell you a story… I used to teach in the Gadsden School System in New Mexico. My second year I had, out of a class of 20, about five girl gang bangers. I came down on them hard. They went to my principal. Ya know what they said? “Mr Field looks down our dresses.”

    The Gadsden School system tried to conduct a Star Chamber on me. I balked. I insisted that the session be taped. Gee Whiz! Human Resources couldn’t find a tape machine ANYWHERE.

    Sir Jack, I realize that I, sitting here in my bunker in NM, cannot, with precisi0n or fairness, judge Julian Assange and the charges against him. I do know that, both you, and I, harbor terrible secrets. Just like Julian and all the heroes who ever lived. I’m game, if you are.

    • So?
      Give me one reason Julian Assange has given me or you to trust him with our fates more than Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or the Joint Chiefs. I’m only asking for one. And the fact that he’s not one of these people doesn’t count.

      The allegations against him in his native country are serious and credible, and the fact that he refuses to stand trial and is essentially a fugitive cannot be airily dismissed by saying “we all have terrible secrets.” I wouldn’t be sympathetic to someone who gave national secrets to Roman Polanski, either.

  9. Beginning at the end, I believe there is some debate whether the allegations against Assange are indeed “serious and credible.” As has been noted by others, the U.K is a “lapdog” of the U.S. State Department. (Why else would they join the US in attacking Iraq, a country that had NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH 9/11.) And, if the reports I’ve read are accurate, those rape charges had been previously withdrawn due to lack of evidence. So why were they brought back from the dead?

    Now, ending with the beginning, the reason I trust Julian Assange more than Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or the Joint Chiefs is he brought to light, by way of Bradley Manning, the war crime now known as Collateral Murder.
    http://www.collateralmurder.com/
    Watching this video sickened me. The treatment meted out to Bradley Manning, the alleged leaker of that video, sickened me even more. Yes, I understand that war is hell, and there are always atrocities on both sides of a conflict. But America stands for something good, and when the bad was revealed via Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks, I believe Obama, the man I voted for, should have demonstrated the intestinal fortitude to suck it up and admit that wrongdoing had been done.

    I’ve asked Tangerine Bolen, creator and producer of Revolution Truth, to comment here, but she is extremely busy with events unfolding, so allow me to post this link to her open letter to the US government regarding WikiLeaks. http://revolutiontruth.org/home

    And, to more specifically address your concerns, Jack, allow me to point you and your readers to a comment Tangerine posted yesterday at the Atlantic Wire. She writes a helluva lot better than I ever will. http://www.theatlanticwire.com/global/2011/05/wikileaks-files-contained-clue-bin-laden-abbottabad-hideout/37252/

    • Your first paragraph, Jeff, undermines your credibility. Assange’s defense to his two rape charges pretty much amounts to “no doesn’t mean no” and “they asked for it.” The facts are not in much dispute, not that his status as a fugitive rapist is at all a necessary part of my unwillingness to entrust my security to the judgement of someone like him.

      Nether the British nor the UD attacked Iraq because of its complicity (that is, no-complicity) with 9/11. They attacked Iraq because 1) Saddam was in violation of the terms of the cease fire as well as 2) multiple UN resolutions and 3) the US and British intelligence believed, erroneously, that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, which he later admitted he wanted the world, particularly Iran, to believe he had. British did what the the UN should have done…back up its own resolutions with force. That’s not being a “lap dog.”

      There is no reason to trust Julian Assange at all. Not one reason. He is not concerned with American interests, not is he a former soldier or combat officer, nor an expert in foreign affairs, nor an individual who has been vetted by the electoral process. I cannot imagine anything that anyone could bring to light that would change the immutability of that.

  10. Jack, you are citing “official” justification for the Iraq conflict. Backing up resolutions like these in no way justify what what was done to Iraq. Not only was it morally repugnant (though, perhaps “ethically” justifiable) but it also caused irreparable damage to the US. (Please read and consider what Chris Hedges has to say regarding our targeting Iraq and the Muslim world.) http://www.truthdig.com/dinner

    We could argue our disparate views on this subject until the cows come home. So, rather than continue, let’s sit back these next months and see how things play out. Meanwhile, I just want to say I very much enjoy reading and participating at Ethics Alarms. Salud!

    • Oh, please. “Official” rationale is less reliable than insane, made up, completely fabricated rationale? No wonder you trust someone like Julian Assange over elected Americans.

      The administration never said that it was invading Iraq because of 9/11, and it knew that Iraq wasn’t involved in 9/11, despite Cheney’s foolish comments. There had been serious public discussions about going into Iraq because of the violations of the cease fire and refusal to accommodate inspections well before 9-11. JOHN KERRY had been pushing the use of force to oust Saddam before 9-11. Whether or not it was wise or prudent to invade Iraq, there was plenty of justification to do so…even without the WMD assumptions. The 9-11 nonsense is nothing but part of the disinformation smear campaign to make the Iraq operation look completely unjustified by those who would have resisted invading the country even if Saddam had nuclear weapons up the wazoo.

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