Ethics Hero: Bill Clinton

Clinton and Bloom

A couple of initial observations on an ironic first Ethics Hero for 2014:

  • President Clinton has been an Ethics Hero before, despite the fact that it was his successful efforts at corrupting the nation’s ethics that led me to launch my first ethics website.
  • As always, when Bill does the right thing, it raises the classic ethics conundrum: did he do the right thing because it was right; did he do it because he knew someone had to do right and he wanted to be first; did he do it because he felt he had a duty to do right; did he do it because he wanted to be perceived as doing right; or did he do it to fool people into believing that he was the kind of person who just does the right thing?
  • Good luck, New York City! You are going to need it.

The speakers lined up for  Mayor Bill  de Blasio’s inauguration’s made one wonder if being rude, arrogant and confrontational is a mandatory qualification for being a New York progressive. Though such ceremonies are supposed to celebrate the orderly transfer of power in a democracy and establish a foundation of unity in a city, state or nation before the fur starts to fly, de Blasio’s hand-picked celebrants decided instead to engage in over-the-top revolutionary rhetoric, divisive hyperbole, and attacks on the outgoing mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Chaplain Rev. Fred Lucas Jr compared the city to a “plantation” in the invocation, suggesting that New York City perpetuated the equivalent of slavery.  Former calypso singer and actor Harry Belafonte, who has morphed into a bitter and angry old man in his twilight years, then described the city in cartoonish terms, divided between the oppressed and the 1% oppressors.

Belafonte called the American justice system “deeply Dickensian,” which means either that he is remarkably ignorant of Victorian England’s realities, has never read “Dombey and Son,” or is just intentionally misrepresenting reality.  He ludicrously spoke about crowded prisons, as if that wasn’t a non sequitur in a city where the incarceration rate is 30% below the nation’s while falling 36% over the past decade. Then Belafonte promised that Mayor de Blasio “would not let this city remain a community divided.” How he can do that without stopping his supporters from using outright lies to divide it further, the “Banana Boat Song” minstrel didn’t say. De Blasio’s new public advocate, Letitia James, directly attacked the record and governing philosophy of Mayor  Bloomberg, and  demanded a government “that cares more about a child going hungry than a new stadium or a new tax credit for a luxury development.” This is called, in logical fallacy circles, “the false choice” error.

It was all too much for the rational, the reasonable, and the fair. One paper and pundit after another pronounced the nasty proceedings a blight on New York politics. Even the uber-partisan New York Times was revolted, condemning de Blasio’s speakers (some defenders actually suggested that he had no idea what they were going to say. Sure.) for “marring the event with backward-looking speeches both graceless and smug.” “Mr. Bloomberg had his mistakes and failures, but he was not a cartoon Gilded Age villain,” wrote the Times in an editorial. “He deserved better than pointless and tacky haranguing from speakers eager to parrot Mr. de Blasio’s campaign theme.”

Finally the ex-President spoke, the main event besides the mayor himself. Clinton knows that using inaugurations as opportunities to bash the outgoing government  is a bad and amateurish habit of unstable states and Marxist revolutionaries, and that such arrogant thinking has taken root too deeply in the highest reaches of  U.S. power of late, contributing to gridlock and the politics of division and hatred. New York City is probably in for a lot of that from now on, based on the gang de Blasio unveiled, but for one day, at least, a better statesman tried to restore mutual respect and dignity to the proceedings, reputedly adding some or all of the following on the spot:

“I also want to thank Mayor Bloomberg, who has committed so much of his life to this city. He leaves this city stronger and healthier than he found it. More people are coming here than leaving,” Clinton said. “With all of our challenges, people know somehow deep down inside there’s something special about New York. So, I’m grateful to both mayors — Mayor Bloomberg for his years of service, and for the legacy he will leave, and to Mayor de Blasio for his good and caring hands.”

Thank you, President Clinton, on behalf of Mayor Bloomberg, New York City, and what used to be the traditions of honorable government. New York voters appear to have inflicted on themselves ta reign of the righteously indignant, who intend to govern by exaggeration, division, demonizing and extremism. As for Mayor de Blasio, we’ll see if he can leave “this city stronger and healthier than he found it.”


Sources: Vos Is Neies, New York Times, Daily News 1, 2

Graphic: Vos Is Neies

27 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Bill Clinton

  1. I think Bill wasn’t aware he would be allowed to say what he actually thinks, and just decided to stick to his cards.

    Had he known (like everyone else was apparently aware), I wager you would have heard a much different speech.

      • Bill’s a moderate, remember—he just can play any other role as needed. But politically, he’s much more like Bloomberg, a liberal Republican, than de Blasio, a de facto socialist.

        • I disagree… Bill was just better at feeling what direction the wind was blowing. He got in front of popular stuff, which made him look moderate…

          At his heart he was as Liberal as the rest of the lot…

        • Hardly. The Clintons are scheming, Machiavellian, souless, ruthless, lying sociopaths, and would sell us out to the Martians if there was something in it for them. I’m just noting Bill’s place on the political spectrum, in theory.

          • But aren’t all the best presidents “scheming, Machiavellian, souless, ruthless, lying sociopaths”. Not to say that all the “scheming, Machiavellian, souless, ruthless, lying sociopaths” that have been elected have been good Presidents, your favorite JFK comes to mind.

            • Some of the best Presidents. I wouldn’t say all. Lincoln and Washington weren’t sociopaths or soulless. Abe was certainly ruthless when he had to be. George wasn’t any of those, I don’t believe. Jackson was scheming, Machiavellian, and ruthless, but he had a conscience. TR was no sociopath. A little crazy, yes.

  2. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, as Freud is reputed to have remarked. It’s quite possible Clinton was just being low key and clocking up mileage appearing at yet another event without sending any deeply meaningful message that needs to be scrutinised so much.

  3. Doubtless, there’s always something in it for him, but, in this case, as little as I care for either Clinton and the obscene amount of influence they still have, one thing I have to admit they know how to do well is handle the press. (Well, Bill better than Hillary)

    Clinton saw how the prevailing winds were blowing that day and there is still enough of a leader in him to recognize the need to counteract some of the harm the others were doing. He also wanted his speech to stand out from the rest. I am also 100% convinced that he’s helping pave the way for his wife to run for president.

    Though Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly denied she will run, she seems to be the only candidate the Democratic Party is promoting. They both love power and are very good at working together to hold onto it.

    So, yeah, there’s some self-serving going on, but, if Mr. Clinton can acheive his goals and still be the good guy of the day, even better for him (or her, as the case may be).

    Verdict: right thing to do for a stew of reasons both right and wrong.

  4. No, Jack, he’s no Ethics Hero. Even in light of his remarks.

    Clinton is an extraordinarily gifted politician, with an almost uncanny ability to charm and work off-the-cuff. I’d argue he’s the most talented politician of the last century. But his track record reveals that ethics are pretty far down the list when it comes to his agenda.

    Therefore, I find it EXTREMELY difficult to believe that Clinton came to Bloomberg’s rescue because it was the right thing to do – a key component in your Ethics Hero designation.

    Consider the dance floor. Of secondary importance: the aforementioned Clinton Foundation, widely reported to be a mismanaged slush fund designed at least in part to keep Clinton and Company relevant and living well. Under such circumstances, pissing off one of the nation’s handful of billionaires is basic bad business.

    But even that is of secondary importance to Hilary’s campaign for the presidency. That the Clintons would be prominently featured in the NYC mayoral inauguration at all speaks volumes: they are still closely aligned to “progressive” politics and wanted to be linked to the only major national prog whose star is currently rising (actually, that particular star has long since been tarnished, but the New York press didn’t seem to think that worth reporting).

    So here we have Bill and Hilary, doing the emcee work at a pissing contest that clearly revealed how clueless, arrogant and mean-spirited progressive politics really are.

    There are but two possibilities.

    First possibility: Clinton didn’t know how many gallons of bile were about to be uncorked. That would bespeak a shocking lack of preparation on the part of a pol who makes it a habit to be VERY well prepped. It’s almost impossible to believe that Team Clinton didn’t know the speakers list and what they were capable of. But what the hell – say that they got lazy for once. In this case, Bill – always quick on his feet – rides in with a note of grace, saving the day. A hail-Mary play, if you will, because he CANNOT permit his wife’s campaign to be sabotaged by this bunch of whiny bootlickers.

    Second possibility: Clinton DID know what the crew was capable of/were likely to do, and used the event to show that Team Clinton is above all that – especially important in that the NYC Mayoral office now resembles a single-A farm team for the major-league arrogance and cluelessness of the Obama administration.

    Call me dreadfully cynical if you wish, but those are the two major possibilities I see. The third possibility, that Bill Clinton had a flash in the pan as an Ethics Hero, seems about as likely as a Powerball win.

    • Bill has his moments. He may be the most bashed politician between the Ethics Scoreboard and Ethics Alarms, but I don’t think its beyond comprehension that he would recognize that a wrong was being done. As I said at the beginning of the post, in Clinton’s case motives are always a puzzle. The bottom line is, however, that he did do the right thing when it needed doing. As you know, unethical people are still capable of acts of heroism.

      Bill stood up to a truther, with gusto, and defended President Bush as a loyal American in front of a partisan group when some jackass suggested that Cheney and Bush had bombed the towers. I understand not trusting the guy, but when he does do the right thing, he deserves recohnition as much as anyone else.

  5. I’m too jaded by politicians (and politics) to consider the possibility that one of them could be inspired to act based on ethics. I suspect that ethics was not on the speaking-agenda menu for Bill.

    • I will caveat however that despite his ability to look and sound like a presidential leader, it was his personal behavior that began the debasing of that office.

      • Sorry, texagg04, but Clinton was certainly NOT the FIRST to begin debasing the office of the President of the United States. His behavior was perhaps the most salacious, or at least the most salacious that had been made public, but he was certainly not the first, unless you are only counting sexual misbehavior. Otherwise, you are simply ignoring the actions of earlier presidents whose motives were more political than lustful. Unethical, immoral political misbehavior is more debasing, IMNSHO, than sexual misbehavior.

        • I stand by my comment, the 90s is when the ubiquity of the media and spread of every little trivial detail really took hold. This worked to Clinton’s disadvantage.

    • That’s no “at least,” but a critical ingredient of successful leadership. Though Bill did not look like a national leader getting caught getting hummers from a star-struck intern. The eternal paradox of Bill Clinton.

  6. Another great article. My estimation is, BC may have had *multiple* reasons for saying what he said – some driven purely by self interests, some not.

    The foul platitudes offered by the majority of the speakers was sadly predictable, given De Blasio’s Marxist sympathizing background. I mean, give me a break, his platform consists almost entirely of class-war rhetoric. I am confident BC had a pretty good idea of the bile the other speakers were going to spew.

    One other angle that has not been explored here is, the power and long reach of Mike Bloomberg. The man is worth around 31 BILLION, and has mega-influence. He has fingers in a lot of pies. While he does not appear to be a highly vindictive individual, I would estimate that embarrassing him in front of a large group of people is NOT something a thinking person would consider lightly. With that said, I’m sure BC saw the opportunity, possibly beforehand, to score a couple of brownie points with Bloomberg (who’s support would be a HUGE asset in the 2016 election).

  7. Jack: Designating Bill Clinton an ethics hero for incidental graciousness in the faces of the New Jackass City pitchfork petty tyrants is as inappropriate and ethics scoreboard-blind as designating de Blasio and his crew ethics heroes for not feeding former mayor Bloomberg to a pack of dogs.

  8. It is not an excuse, of course, but simply perspective to note that “being rude, arrogant and confrontational is a mandatory qualification” for being a New Yorker.

    Since it was a ceremony and not a rally, I agree with praising anyone for raising the tone.

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