Iowa Aftermath: Five Ethics Lessons

The Iowa Caucuses produced a bumper crop of ethics lessons.

Ah, it may look like corn, but but there are kernals of ethics knowledge in those Iowa fields!

1. People may do the right thing for the wrong reasons, but what counts is that they do the right thing. Jaw-dropping statements from some Evangelicals in Iowa that they just couldn’t see voting for a woman to be President had many pundits writing that Iowa was too backward to have such a prominent role in electoral politics. The result of this particular bias, however, was to knock Rep. Michele Bachmann out of the race, a result she had earned with her serial irresponsible statements and half-truths. And it was a bias that she courted, both by her repeated nod to subservience in her own marriage and her self-identification with the Evangelical bloc. The bigotry that helped end her candidacy was a bigotry that she  supported, and that equals rough justice, but justice nonetheless.

2. The news media’s lack of diligence and professionalism warps the process. Because the news media only vetted candidates after they had attracted substantial public interest—Translation: the records of  candidates only became important when they would attact readers and viewers—Rick Santorum, by sheer luck of the draw, was the last Romney challenger standing after press scrutiny had made it clear that the others were unqualified, unelectable, or unbelievable. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, in a column that ridiculed Santorum’s many contradictory and bizarre statements, admitted this, writing,

“There’s little time left to scrutinize Santorum before the Iowa vote — and in his case, that’s an exceedingly lucky thing. Given more time in the spotlight, he would reveal himself as a hard-edged Dan Quayle.”

Yes, and whose fault was that, Mr. Milbank?  There wasn’t “little time” if the media had done its job—Santorum has been campaigning in Iowa for a year. Why did the press give him a free pass until it was too late? The standard is not supposed to be “We expose and destroy the candidates who have a chance of winning and who we don’t like.” It should be “We inform the public about each candidate objectively so voters can make a competent decision.” Santorum was around at the end because the news media failed to meet its professional obligations.

3. Ron Paul has a flat ethical learning curve. The most dangerous  candidate is Ron Paul, and the press decided to keep him around for laughs until a Paul win in Iowa became a real possibility. Then, and only then, did the press remind voters of the Paul newsletters—and their racist content— from the Eighties and Nineties, for which there is no explanation that doesn’t disqualify Paul as a presidential contender. The best spin, from Paul’s point of view, would be that he was unconscionably lax in his oversight of  publications that supposedly spoke for him. Then he could argue that he had sharpened his leadership skills to presidential levels in the intervening decades. As the suddenly attentive news media deftly pointed out, however, Paul hasn’t: on the night of the caucuses, Ron Paul’s twitter account sent out a much re-tweeted jibe at Jon Huntsman, who was not even officially in the race, reading:

@JonHuntsan we found your one Iowa voter, he’s in Linn precinct 5 you might want to call him and say thanks.

CNN raised the tweet to Paul in post-caucus interviews twice, asking the Congressman if such gratuitous nastiness was “presidential.” Paul’s answer?

“Obviously I didn’t send it, so I don’t understand…To tell you the truth, I don’t understand why this is an important issue or what it means. Jon Huntsman wasn’t even in the campaign, so I’m not sure of the importance of what you’re talking about. It just seems to be irrelevant to me.”

Then allow me to explain it to you, Ron. It’s important because it means you’re still letting people speak for you, still picking irresponsible people to do it, still failing to oversee them, and still ducking responsibility for what is published under your own name. It’s not irrelevant. It’s a pattern. It is proof that you are irresponsible and not trustworthy, and have a flat learning curve to boot.

4. There is no new Newt Gingrich, just the same old nasty, unethical one. Gingrich began his campaign by quoting Ronald Reagan’s famous “commandment”‘ that Republicans shouldn’t attack Republicans. Appearing statesmanlike, in sharp contrast to the Speaker who allowed a perceived snub by President Clinton (Newt was forced to sit in the back of Air Force One) to affect his tactics in a budget showdown, Gingrich surged to the fore of the “not-Romneys” in the race. Predictably, his opponents used attack adds to remind forgetful voters of what a cur Newt really is, and predictably, Newt is now out for vengeance. His post-Iowa statements indicate that he is no longer in the race to win, but to exact bitter vengeance on Romney. So much for party loyalty; so much for being a statesman, so much for putting his purported top priority of defeating Barack Obama above personal agendas. The man who magnanimously said in Iowa that “everyone on the stage” would be preferable to the current occupant of the White House and that he would support any of them, again has made it clear that when the pretense and posturing is stripped away, it is all about Newt.

5. The news media’s confirmation bias problem is ridiculously obvious, but nobody seems to care. Somebody get these people a basic psychology text! It was hilariously easy to distinguish the left-biased hacks and the right-biased hacks in the Iowa aftermath media analysis—the question is, why was the news media subjecting viewers to hacks at all? The anti-Romney hacks were explaining the ex-Massachusetts governor’s win as a loss, despite the fact that nobody had given him a prayer of winning in heavily Evangelical Christian Iowa just a few weeks ago. The pro-Romney hacks were describing his eight vote victory as confirmation that the nomination was all but locked up. Where was  objective analysis? Hard to find, that’s where, because objectivity, supposedly the hallmark of ethical journalism, is neither valued or practiced very much today.


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