It is one of the Ethics Alarms truths that “When the going gets tough, the tough get unethical.” That is not universally true, however, for there are individuals, in public and private life, who manage to maintain their ethical values even under pressure, even when unethical tactics appear to be an inviting way out of peril, even when maintaining ethical integrity can lead to failure and defeat.
I once thought Sen. John McCain was such a man, but I was proven wrong when he defeated a conservative rival for his Senate seat by embracing unethical policies and positions that he had once decried. I once thought that Barack Obama, despite his other deficiencies as a leader, had a strong claim to being more honest and ethical than his likely Republican rivals. He is now proving me wrong again.
Obama’s rejection of his stated values of being an honest, non-divisive, trustworthy leader capable of forcing the electorate to confront hard truths is now in full bloom. Apparently frightened by the polls, and being urged to “get tough” by his political advisors, who, like all political advisors, will only recommend ethical actions if their internal polls show that it will lead to a 3-5 point bump, the President went “full pander.” Addressing the Congressional Black Caucus, he employed his version of black dialect, dropping his g’s, throwing in some “y’all’s”, and generally sounding, as African-American Washington Post columnist Colbert King ruefully observed, like he was addressing the fictional lodge from “Amos ‘n Andy.” It was, in a word, phony. I am amazed if blacks are not insulted by the condescension and cynical manipulation such a performance suggests. Obama is Hawaiian and mid-Western; he has never talked like that. It is as if he addressed a Cuban-American group and suddenly morphed, Zelig-like, into Ricky Ricardo. This is an ugly and disappointing thing.
That is just style, however; the content of his recent speeches has been as bad or worse. Yesterday, for example, Obama, attacked Texas Governor Rick Perry by saying,
“Has anybody been watching the debates lately? You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change…”
It is impossible to overstate how dishonest this is, and how irresponsible. Obama is presumably smart enough to know that individual events do not prove climate change, and the global warming enthusiasts correctly mock skeptics who point to cold snaps and blizzards as evidence that global warming is a myth. But he also knows that this is the rudimentary level at which most Americans comprehend the complex issue, and his duty as a responsible leader and a policy-maker is to try to educate them, not reinforce their ignorance. The Texas wildfires are not unprecedented, and Rick Perry is not being foolish to refuse to attribute them to climate change, whether or not he is mistaken on the climate change issue generally. To suggest otherwise is dishonest, and for Obama to use his authority and presumed intellect to feed scientific ignorance is indefensible.
In his CBC speech, Obama again invoked the myth he has been flogging for weeks. “If asking a billionaire to pay the same tax rate as a janitor makes me a warrior for the working class,” he said. “I wear that with a badge of honor.” As even Obama-friendly journalists have pointed out, billionaires don’t pay lower tax rates than janitors, unless, like Obama’s pal and mouthpiece Warren Buffett, they manipulate all their income into holding companies that then refuse to pay millions in taxes for years on end. As Washington Post Fact-Checker Greg Kessler put it:
“When you add up all of the various taxes, and look at the effective tax rates, it is clear the tax system is already pretty progressive. Everyone pays some tax, even those who pay no federal income taxes, and the wealthiest pay a larger percentage share of taxes. Here’s the effective tax rate for all of the groups, according to the CBO:
“Lowest quintile (23.4 million taxpayers), zero to $18,900: 4.3 percent
Second lowest quintile (22.4 million), $18,900-$32,100: 10.2 percent
Middle quintile (22.9 million), $32,100-$47,400: 14.2 percent
Fourth quintile (23 million), $47,400-$71,200: 17.6 percent
Highest quintile (23.6 million), above $71,200: 25.8 percent
Top 10 percent (12 million), minimum income of $98,100: 27.5 percent
Top 5 percent (5.9 million), minimum income of $134,400: 29 percent
Top 1 percent (1.1 million), minimum income of $332,300: 31.2 percent”
His Obama-friendly conclusion: “Maybe it’s not a good thing to make policy by anecdote.” Yeah, and maybe it’s better idea for Presidents to sell policies using the truth rather than convenient misrepresentations.
In the National Review, Deroy Murdock is less delicate in describing another recent Obama refrain, as he complains, Harry Truman-like, about the “do-nothing Congress.” His verdict: Obama is “lying through his teeth.” Murdock explains :
“Congress consists of a do-something House of Representatives, run by Republicans, and a do-nothing Senate controlled by Obama’s very own Democrats. Obama evidently believes that if he can keep spouting clever lies and distortions, no one will call him on it. Well, it’s time to do so.
“… Through September 15, the GOP House had voted 711 times. Meanwhile, across the same period, the Democratic Senate had only 137 recorded votes. …This distinction might discredit House Republicans if they wasted their time voting on National Apricot Yogurt Month and similar matters of national urgency. In fact, Republicans have approved serious legislation …these have included bills to reduce anti-business regulations, accelerate offshore oil production, and speed the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Canadian oil to refineries in Texas. The pipeline alone would create 20,000 jobs.
“Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid seems to be in no rush to consider Obama’s American Jobs Act, even though Obama wants it enacted “right now!”“We’ve got to get rid of some issues first,” Reid said. For now, he is not sure “exactly what I’m going to do yet with the president’s jobs bill,” especially since some of Reid’s own Democrats, such as Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Jim Webb of Virginia, seem ho-hum about Obama’s $447 billion Stimulus Jr.
“While House Republicans adopted a budget last April 15, the Democratic Senate has not approved a budget since April 29, 2009. This Democratic inaction seems to violate the U.S. Congressional Budget Act, which requires passage of an annual budget resolution. Indeed, the Senate rejected Obama’s budget in May by a vote of 0 to 97 — with every Democrat in the chamber voting nay.”
Unless all of this is just a momentary blip on Obama’s character (if characters even have blips), the President has transformed from a man who said he would rather be a successful one-term president if keeping true to his principles meant that he lost the election, to a man who is willing to divide the nation by race, class and party using whatever half-truths, deceitful devices and outright lies necessary to do so, in order to win a second term in an unsuccessful presidency. If he succeeds in that quest, he will have stayed in his high office by proving himself unworthy of it.