Some Post Iowa Debate Ethics Awards

Other than the fact that both would look crazy on the cover of Newsweek, how is Humpty Dumpty like Michele Bachman?

The GOP pre-Iowa straw poll presidential debate last night earned a few ethics awards, with many more to come as we get to know these pretenders better:

Journalistic Integrity Award: Chris Wallace, Fox news anchor and questioner.

Wallace continues to bring legitimate and fair journalistic practices to his job, and gets accused of being biased anyway. Or, as in this case, (and as when he shocked Michele Bachmann by asking her directly what everyone was implying, “Are you a flake?”), conservatives who expect softballs from Fox react with indignation that an assumed ally is asking a tough question. Wallace asked Newt Gingrich about his flailing campaign organization, and Gingrich angrily called it a “gotcha” question. That’s not a “gotcha,” Newt, and you know it. When most of a candidate’s  campaign staff, those who know him  best, have indicated that they don’t think he has a chance—or perhaps shouldn’t have a chance—by jumping ship, it is fair and responsible to ask a candidate to explain.

But Wallace just can’t win. Here’s how the Huffington Post explained Wallace’s tough questions:

“In Ames, Iowa, we saw a FOX news team grilling the Republican primary contenders with a zeal last seen unleashed at Bret Baier’s one-on-one with President Obama during the pique of White House sanctions of the network. The at-times caustic tone was an unequivocal sign that internally conservatives are taking seriously the task of green-lighting a unifying, winning candidate from their party’s ideological and leadership disarray.”

Yup: tough questions to conservatives prove that Wallace is biased too. Sorry, Chris. They’ll see what they want to see.

Leadership Comprehension Award: Tim Pawlenty, explaining to Rep. Michele Bachmann why being a “champion” is distinct from being a successful leader.

He said,

“She fought for less government spending, we got a lot more. She led the effort against ObamaCare, we got ObamaCare. She led the effort against [the 2008 Troubled Assets Relief Program, which bailed out Wall Street], we got TARP. If that’s your view of effective leadership with results, please stop, because you’re killing us.”

Bingo. Leadership is easy to measure:  if things get better, your organization and followers prosper, and there are tangible results from your leadership,  then you are an effective leader. If all you do is attract attention, fight lost causes, and criticize, you may be an advocate or an agitator or an activist, but you are not an effective leader.

To be fair, the verdict isn’t in on Bachmann yet, for a House representative isn’t a true leadership position, and Bachmann has accomplished something as a leader, like it or not. She has propelled the Tea Party movement into national prominence.

The Humpty Dumpty Award: Michele Bachmann, for her convenient re-defining of “submissive.”

In “Though the Looking Glass,” Lewis Carroll’s wonderful sequel to “Alice in Wonderland,” the heroine encounters Humpty Dumpty, sitting on a wall (naturally.) They have a typically confusing discussion, and at one point the arrogant egg  says, “There’s glory for you!”

Alice is confused:

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,”‘ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

“But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,” Alice objected.

“`When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

Last night Bachmann was asked about an interview last month  in which she said that she had studied tax law because her husband, Marcus, had told  her to do so, and that the Bible directs a wife to be submissive. Would that also apply in the White House? Good question!

Here was Bachmann’s Carrollesque answer:

“I’m in love with him. I’m so proud of him. And both he and I — what submission means to us, if that’s what your question is, it means respect. I respect my husband. He’s a wonderful, godly man, and a great father. And he respects me as his wife. That’s how we operate our marriage.’’

If you say so, Humpty…I mean, Michele. The problem is that respect and submission are two completely different things, and if you really don’t know the difference, that’s as big a problem as taking orders from your husband submissively. Respecting someone doesn’t require that you agree with him, or have to follow his directives. Similarly, to refuse to submit to the will of someone shouldn’t mean that you can’t respect him, though it would not surprise me if Bachmann didn’t agree with this.

There’s glory for you!

8 thoughts on “Some Post Iowa Debate Ethics Awards

  1. Regarding Bachman and leadership role, I believe your latter comment pertains: that she has lead the Tea Party contingent in the House. If you look at the direction of sentiment in America, one can argue that she is on the vanguard and not in the conventional status-quo. Just because the issues she espouses and defends haven’t yet become mainstream does mean they won’t, and the election cycle of 2012 will show this (or not). Obviously, there is a lot of entrenched traditional Republican power, and this will not be unseated overnight.
    Secondly, on the meaning of “submit,” you have to have the context of the more fundamentalist background from which she originates. I’m not saying I agree with it, nor the literalist interpretation often characteristic of that ilk, but it helps to understand HER background, to understand what the word means to HER. Notwithstanding that it may mean something different to the “mainstream” or the eastern liberal establishment, or to you. In my recent experience, in a more fundamentalist tradiiton (AOG), what she said about the word “submit” IS, indeed, likely what it means to her.

    • Yes; good points. On the matter of submit: if one is going to communicate in the public forum, one either has to use the public’s definition of words or explain beforehand what you mean by a word or phrase when it differs from the expected definition. Otherwise it is like a speaker talking English to a Spanish-speaking audience—it’s rude, and confusing. It’s also slippery, when you come back and wiggle out of a gaffe by saying that you meant something that no typical listener would ever expect.

      • I would point out that when one is in this position, it is not always clear–perhaps never clear–when one’s understanding of the meaning of a word (or a word as used in a particular context) is different from others’ understanding of the word’s meaning.

        If you sincerely think you know the meaning of a word, how can you know when you are wrong until someone points out that you’ve used it incorrectly, or until some misunderstanding results from your usage?

        And maybe–just maybe–you’re not the one who’s wrong (like when someone argues with you over the definition of “Congress”) and the correct thing to do is educate them.

        In this case, the context of “submit” is clear: Ephesians 5:22, where St. Paul describes the analogy between a relationship with God and the relationship between a husband and wife, and NOT the general dictionary definition.

        In fact, her answer is right on the money, Biblically, because the relevant passage ends (verse 33) with “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”* When asked about her usage of a word, where the premise of the question is the general dictionary definition, I think she was right to insist on the correct context for her answer.

        It’s not as if the news media is out there educating people on the contents of the New Testament every day….

        –Dwayne

        * NIV

        • It’s still Humpty Dumpty-ism. I’m STILL unclear about how submit, from the Latin, can possibly mean “respect:” Is it respect she’s redefining, or submit? This is like the columnist saying that by civility she means “let everyone say their piece.” Or me saying when that when I say Michele Bachmann is slipperier than an eel, I means she’s the salt of the earth.

          This is a debate, televised nationally. She is talking to everyone, not just people who can recite the New Testament by heart but think that dinosaur fossils were planted by Satan. When someone uses obscure meanings and definitions, I smell a rat, and check my pockets. I’m checking.

      • There’s a wide public out there, i.e. Midwesterners and Christians, who already get it, so “the public” means different things to different people. It is not uncommon, 40 years post-Nixon, to have Middle America dismissed, but Middle America does vote, and often makes the difference in national elections. You could look at her response as “interpreting” for the larger America. Yes, she’s naive, to think that the wide spectrum of Americans are going to understand what she means, but I don’t think I would characterize her response as rude. She is somewhat insular, and devoted to her Iowa roots, proud of her Iowa heritage and all that, but, actually, in this way, she is no different than Easterners who assume that their higher education, erudition and sophistication trump the common sense values of Midwesterners. Despite my New England roots, these are now my people, so I understand both sides.

        • Michele Bachmann has neither erudition OR common sense. Or maybe she’s a masterful manipulator who’s playing us all for fools. Either way, we ALL lose.

          • No common sense for voting against the debt ceiling? “Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.” Barack H. Obama, (D-Illinois), 2006. Yes, of course she has not erudition, but, given the “erudition” of the academics in Obama’s staff, who have never had to operate a real business, I think I’ll go with the common sense Midwestern values from someone who actually wants to restore America instead of destroy it, as is obvious from the current administration. And “masterful manipulator”? Oh, puh-leez! The current occupant of the White House is the very dictionary definition of same.

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