Ethics Quote Of The Week: Prof. Glenn Reynolds


Obama float

“To even investigate something like that is itself a civil rights violation.”

—-Prof. Glenn Reynolds, the “Instapundit, commenting on the news that the Department of Justice is investigating as a possible civil rights violation the anti-Obama float that appeared in a Nebraska Independence Day parade.

He is correct. This is government intimidation and an attempt to chill political speech. The float was crude and its sentiment was misplaced, but sending government agents to investigate it is indistinguishable from sending the FBI to knock on your door after your letter to the editor  critical of the President appears in the paper.

Where are the liberals who will have the integrity to call this what it is?

I can’t wait to find out.

52 thoughts on “Ethics Quote Of The Week: Prof. Glenn Reynolds

  1. Here’s a Liberal!

    If this is the case, I agree. It smells of what’s happening in Egypt right now. It’s suppression of expression, pure and simple.

    But an even more worry some note is that this is a global symptom of power not being able to handle any form of alternative thought or criticism – and sending in the storm troopers in their Halloween costumes is pure intimidation. All this float is is a political cartoon in 3D format. You could have easily painted George W, Clinton or Carter’s name on it and it would have the same effect.

      • No, that’s not the point. The point is that it’s a 3D political cartoon and doesn’t matter who is being lampooned. Race should not even enter the conversation.

        • If that was BBA’s point, then it was awfully worded.

          As worded he distinctly states a reaction to the mentioned President’s would be the same as the reaction by this one. I think that is a misjudgment. He must not.

          • Maybe. I can see how it might be ambiguous phrasing but the context and tone pretty clearly lean towards Patrice’s interpretation. He and I both came away with the same understanding – it never occurred to me that blameblakeart was implying something negative about past presidents.

            • Yeah hey TexAgg04 – that was composed with voice recognition software, walking from the train to work. So sorry about the awfully wordy point. Patrice, thank you for being well-rounded enough to have “context” in mind, and not to be so literal.

    • Wouldn’t have the same effect (obviously, because they didn’t), but would mean basically the same thing. I think that’s probably what you meant, and if so, I agree.

      There were a lot of jokes about Pres. GW Bush’s upcoming presidential library going around back in ’08, and a lot of them would have looked a lot like this one if they had been “floatified.”

      The cries of racism in this case are nothing more than flatulent whining by people who are projecting their own stink onto someone else. Racism gets really scary when a power imbalance is involved — when the system or the majority looks the other way while a targeted group suffers. This is why anybody can call a white guy a “cracker” and even the guy who’s the butt of the pejorative doesn’t care, while the “n” word is scarcely even referred to as “the ‘n’ word” in polite conversation, let alone said fully out loud. One word echoes with centuries of overt systemic racism, the other doesn’t. But the float made no references to race at all. It just put the president’s name in a very unflattering place.

      So where’s the power imbalance here? Talk history all you want, but that’s abstract. Seems to me that the ability to point the heavy treads of government at a single cynical citizen in Nebraska right now trumps the racial history card. Or maybe it is a new play of the race card. What would Obama’s Justice Department have done about the outcry if a black man or an American Indian had put that float together? Would there have been an outcry at all?

      • I don’t think he did…

        I think he only asked for those liberals who do see an issue with the Administration’s attempts at thought control and speech suppression to speak up against it. So, if there are those with integrity, they’d be speaking up, no?

      • Liberals.

        It’s a group that has either a vocal minority and a very quiet, perhaps complicit majority, or a majority unfettered by the dissent of it’s minority. Sure, there are moderates that proclaim “not all Liberals are like that” like it should solve everything. But it doesn’t, because there are enough extremists to make a difference on a policy level. Is it an oversimplification to say “Liberals” in that context? Yes, Because you’re right, not all liberals are like that. Some liberals give credibility to a political faction that would otherwise not have it. You are Obama’s useful idiots.


        • Well congratulations, you can rewrite your post and substitute “conservative” for “liberal” and make the same damn point. Moderate opinions don’t make news. Extremist views do. Because of this, one side thinks that all liberals LOVE Obama and the other thinks all conservatives are ignorant racists. Neither statement is true but it is easy to find ample support with about 5 minutes of research.

        • OK. But then the same must be said for Conservatives. Not all Conservatives are uneducated, reactionary, obstructionist people lacking in basic human compassion. But enough of them fit this description to “make a difference on a policy level.” Some silent Conservatives “give credibility to a political faction that would otherwise not have it.” They are the extreme Right-Wing’s useful idiots.

          The point is that there are extremists on both sides. And those of us who don’t speak up are giving tacit agreement with our silence. For myself, I see so much liberal-bashing on things that DO matter, and that the right-wing extremists denigrate, that I am disinclined to say anything about these kinds of issues.

          • First off, you’re making a relative filth argument (or comparative virtue excuse), even if conservatives are just as bad, that doesn’t excuse you.

            Second, I think that conservatives are orders of magnitude better at either marginalizing or illegitimating our extremists. Look at the FOX/MSNBC dichotomy. They’re both shameless, partisan hacks, but everyone knows Fox News is a partisan hack, and more useful as entertainment than actual news, We know Bill O’Rielly will say absolute garbage for ratings. Can you say the same of MSNBC and its anchors?

            • I suspect (no proof, obviously) that there are many conservatives who only watch Fox News, only watch conservative pundits like O’Reilly, and find them perfectly satisfactory as their sole sources of news, not entertainment. They believe what these people tell them.

              I rarely watch the news on TV (and certainly never MSNBC). I rarely read the newspapers. I get a headline, then I go to several sources to get as balanced a report as I can, including reading Ethics Alarms.

              But as Paul Simon wrote, “I get the news I need from the weather report. I can gather all the news I need from the weather report.”

              Or: “Half of the people are stoned and the other half are waiting for the next election. Half of the people are drowning and the other half are swimming in the wrong direction.”

              • You know what I’ve noticed?

                You and Beth, who have taken the time to comment, didn’t comment on the article, or any of the other two articles directly related to this article, or the last ten posts, to call out stupidity in someone who might be labelled a liberal and distance yourself from them. You have however, defended liberalism as a whole, and played out a no true Scotsman-esque defense. Meanwhile, in the recent article about homophobics who magically transform into tolerants the moment their family is involved, I found myself agreeing with… Beth! Who was calling out an obnoxious comment from Steve-O. That’s the difference between the groups in a microcosm: I’ll call out idiots. You’ll call out conservative idiots.

                • I don’t comment on every post because: 1) I don’t have time to — I’m a busy mom with a full-time job; and 2) Jack’s political posts have become repetitive in my opinion. I tend to comment more on social issues because I find them more interesting. If you want to do some research, you will see that I have repeatedly said that not only am I not an Obama fan, I personally think he should be tried for war crimes.

                  • That’s another trend I’ve noticed in Liberals, “If you want to do some research”, “Educate yourself, because I can’t be bothered to, I’m obviously right, if only you put in the effort to see it. And I’m busy, so it’s unreasonable for you to expect me to. You can’t see it? Educate yourself more!” You might even be right…. But when you make an assertion, it’s not up to me to prove it for you, sorry.

                    I wasn’t looking at your long term personal trend. This isn’t about you. You were my anecdotal example in one situation, about a larger group. I don’t need you to do anything. You don’t have to comment any more or less than you want to.

                  • Thanks, Beth. My feelings exactly. On all points.

                    And, I believe I DID comment about this blog post when I wrote “The investigation and those who agree with it are wrong and they ought to just shut up and pursue something useful.”

                    But to be honest, I’m just tired of this. It is not civil discourse.

                    • I pretty much agree too, believe it or not—but the repetitious complaint smacks of “Move-On”—“OK, we’re tired of hearing about how Bill Clinton lied about Monica, engineered a cover-up, and corrupted his whole party and more than 50% of Americans in the process to hold ob to a job he dsigarced—get over it!”—frankly. Do you think I like having to keep pointing out this crap? I hate it, and I’m bored by it, but I hate the fact that the media refuses to report facts and assists in cover-ups even more. What would you recommend, exactly? I write about what comes across my desk. Nothing changes. It’s “repetitious” that the Tax Prof Blog is now running Day 432 updates on an IRS scandal that the news media has decided not to report—go ahead, tell him what you told me. The refusal of the current power-wielders to clean up their act and be honest with the American people is shocking, and the refusal of the news media to hold them to account–AS IS THEIR DUTY—terrifying. Should we all just ignore it? Be part of the cover-up, based on the fact that this has been going on for six years and is getting worse? I believe this is the ethics issue of our time–trust in our institutions—and the only way to reverse a death spiral is to motivate and educate the public, and to keep pounding away. Little, significant outrageous like the DOJ coming down on an old man who builds an insulting, disrespectful float slip by, because…well, it’s not like their are droning citizens, so it doesn’t matter. Yes, that’s how scandal fatigue, incompetence fatigue, Democracy-rot fatigue works, and some people count on that. Hey, it’s old hat, so it doesn’t matter. to the contrary, it matters more BECAUSE it is “old hat.”

                      You tell me how to comment on ethics while ignoring the daily, drip, drip, drip of this government’s shocking abandonment of its core principles, and I’ll eagerly comply.

                    • Jack, you can write about what you want — it wasn’t meant as an attack on you. Your disgust is focused on the media — but mine is on politics in general. (The media is just the cherry on top of this wretched sundae.) It’s disgusting AND it’s theater, bad theater at that. I can’t get worked up about what Obama is doing every single day because I have seen every President in my lifetime (starting with Reagan) abuse the office and mislead the public. The Republicans aren’t going to really do anything about it because they want to be able to do the same heinous activities when they hold the Oval Office, so they just engage in this bad theater and are supported by a lazy, profits-driven media. And when the Republicans are again in charge, the Democrats are going to do the same damn thing. And, even if you could fix the media, you won’t be able to change the depressing fact that most Americans don’t care. I DO care, but there is nothing that I can do about it. I try to vote for the best candidate and I am teaching my children to be critical thinkers — but I cannot fix a broken, corrupt political system propped up by lobbyists and passive news outlets. There aren’t enough pharmaceutical drugs out there if I tried to be impassioned about this topic every day the way you are.

                    • There’s no reply link below your last comment, Jack, so this looks like I’m replying to myself. But I’m not.

                      When I said I’m tire of this, it’s the liberal/progressive bashing I’m tired of — not the issue. I am liberal and progressive in my thinking, opinions, attitudes, and behavior. I have nothing to regret in those regards nor am I ashamed of those credentials. They cover many, MANY good attributes, and don’t deserve the negative name-calling that is common among some of the regulars here. I don’t bash conservatives on this blog or anywhere else. And let me tell you, there’s plenty I could say. But I was under the impression that we could discuss things here and not feel personally attacked. Unfortunately, that’s often not how I feel.

                      The global media bias one way or the other is also tiresome, which is why I almost never pay any attention to it now. Until you bring something up. I don’t know. Feelings of futility are a trap, I know, but the juggernaut of out-of-control media bias and vapidity is careening into the abyss.

                      I just don’t have the psychological wherewithal or the intellectual capacity to comment on everything. I only comment when I feel that I have something to add to the “conversation.” When it devolves away from civil discourse, I get tired and fade away. Life is too short for me to feel attacked by people who don’t even know me.

                    • The progressive/liberal bashing is deplorable when done on an ad hominem basis. I have criticized right wing radio hosts for doing this. I don’t know how one avoids it, when the President, who should literally NEVER engage in this kind of rhetoric, demonizes conservatives and Republicans routinely, and more frequently lately. You can say what you want about president Bush, but he refused to engage in this as President. Neither did Clinton,

                      So what should be said about an ideological group that tolerates conduct, done in its name, by a leader and a party that claims the ideological mantle, speech suppression and intimidation, anti-Catholic bias, group preferences, and rights violations, like NSA spying and drone strikes? What’s the civil way to describe it? Is corrupted too strong? Is cowardly unfair? Is hypocritical excessive? Or is it just fine, and immune from criticism?

                      I really would like to know. I thought conservatives disgraced themselves during the Bush years. I never dreamed that disgrace could be not only topped, but lapped.

                    • I think I’ve figured out something (at last!) — You see, I don’t see any of those people as liberal/progressive, and that’s why I don’t think to try to divorce myself from them or their actions. They might CALL themselves liberal and/or progressives, but they are merely using those labels to try to appeal to people like me whom they view as sheep. Regardless of what they call themselves on either side, they are far worse than any extremist from either side. They are political whores.

                      I continue to be a registered Democrat because of what the Democratic Party used to stand for and what I hope they will return to. Meanwhile, Democratic democracy as well as Republican democracy are both broken. I hope Democracy (with a capital D) is not irreparably broken. After that last 20 years, and knowing human nature (Anne Frank, I think you might have been wrong), I can’t imagine what can be done short of scrapping the whole thing and starting over.

                      (Dear NSA, I’m not advocating anarchy or a coup. Just sayin’…)

                    • Patrice sums up what I’ve been trying to say perfectly. It doesn’t matter which label is attached to a pundit, news anchor, or politician. They are all scum.

                    • But the “a pox on all their houses” is its own kind of license. You have to still distinguish between the worst, the not so bad, and the not that far from actually being good, and reward and punish accordingly. They may all be scum, but they aren’t all equally scummy, or irredeemable scum. Saying this allows you to observe the fantasy that your current choice is no worse than the alternative, when it might be.

    • I don’t think he did…

      I think he only asked for those liberals who do see an issue with the Administration’s attempts at thought control and speech suppression to speak up against it. So, if there are those who aren’t “ditto-heads”, they’d be speaking up, no?

    • Jack isnt literally implying that all Liberals are ethical failures. Properly, he’s most likely saying that the general consensus or behavior of the liberal body is unethical. But that’s a long qualification to include every-time liberals come up with something idiotic. Especially considering that most folks will recognize that kind of statement as a general-trend-over-time argument rather than a literal one.

      A better solution would be to stop criticizing (or claiming injustice over) legitimate and convenient argumentative short hand. The Not All “X” Are Like That (NALXALT) argument is a solipsistic and nonconstructive straw-man.

      • Maybe not. But he does seem to imply that we liberals are not willing to come forth and make it clear that this sort of statement is unacceptable:
        “Where are the liberals who will have the integrity to call this what it is? I can’t wait to find out.”

        Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but there seems to me to be an implication that either there aren’t any liberals with integrity and/or that we aren’t willing to complain about the statement. If he didn’t intend either of those, then his phrasing was misleadingly snarky.

        Maybe he was just trying to draw out the likes of Beth and me to get a conversation started. OK, he has baited me before and we’re still friends. 🙂

        My $.02? The investigation and those who agree with it are wrong and they ought to just shut up and pursue something useful. Nonetheless, I would not have initiated a conversation about this if I had not been drawn in by feeling attacked as a liberal. As Jack has pointed out often, there’s just so much stupidity running rampant on both sides that I find myself battered by the hot winds of futility.

        • Liberals are, by their tradition and name, supposed to be the champions of fee expression, and to oppose intimidation by entrenched power. Thus it should be liberals, not Glenn Reynolds, and not those who have already condemned the float as in bad taste, who should come together en masse and tell the Obama Administration to stop trying to stifle dissent that they so richly deserve in any form whatsoever. Obviously, I’m not talking about the intelligent, open-minded, principled liberal I know, like Patrice or Beth, but prominent liberals, and liberal pundits. Where is the chorus at MSNBC condemning this? Where is Pelosi? Eugene Washington? E.J. Dionne? Harry Reid?

          Go ahead, send me that tidal wave of liberal objections and protests.

          The progressive movement has no integrity. That’s what I see.

          • And citing the inconsistencies of conservatives is a cop-out. It is progressives and Democrats who are addicted to censorship and thought control, and this violates core liberal principles.

            • Liberals aren’t actually liberal anymore, they’re progressive. And progressivism is actually profoundly regressive. Orwell would’ve had a field day with current American politics (or maybe a heart attack…could go either way).

              • That is one of the most concise and clear summations of the issue I’ve read. Although I’d clarify my opinion is that the radical Left never did believe in Free Speech, but needed to tout it as long as their collectivizing beliefs were on the fringes of society. Now that they are in power? Nope. Suppression and censorship is a feature, not a bug of “liberalism”.

                Which Ing is quite correct, the Left has obliterated any true meaning of liberal so badly that actual “liberals” have to call themselves classical liberals.

                • I don’t agree with this categorization. I am so far on the radical left circle that one more degree and I’ll fall in with the Tea Party. (And I assure you they don’t want me.) A true progressive believes in free speech in its purest and ugliest forms. A main-stream liberal is more willing to condemn speech and tow the party line when it comes to negligence or abuse within the administration.

                  • I should clarify that I wasn’t talking about what those terms should mean if they were properly applied, but how they’re used politically right now.

        • Jack often calls out conservatives to condemn some stupid thing someone on the right has done or said. I’ve replied to several of these call outs with my opinion which is most often that conservatives do stupid things and should not only be called on it, but removed from positions of power if the circumstances make that course of action necessary.

      • “Not All X are like that” is a perfectly reasonable defense against generalizations based on a small subset of a group. I suppose it only really works when it can be stated as “Most X are Not Like That”. It’s an unfair counter argument only when the dissenters are a minority.

        For instance, noting that democrats support the suppression of corporate speech is reasonable despite a minority who support a strong first amendment. It is not reasonable to accuse Republicans of a War on Women because of Todd Aiken. It’s not reasonable to accuse Democrats of being Socialists because of Bernie Sanders.

        I’m finding it much easier to think of instances of Republicans as a group being held accountable for stupidity of it’s extremists, but I know it goes both ways.

  2. interesting that the omaha world-herald (which initially reported the story) doesnt cite a sigle DOJ source or government spokesperson to provide any context or fact about the why’s and who’s of this claim.

    it quotes the float owner and an NAACP spokesperson. That hardly passes for news…and i’d be more concerned about journalistic ethics here than any government/free speech question.

    we do know that “the…Community Relations Service team… gets involved in discrimination disputes…”. sounds like something it does as a matter of course when there are significant local complaints.

    report first. then debate.

    • Rationalizations. Omaha is in Nebraska—presumably they aren’t making this up. I don’t care what part of the Justice Department is investigating—you really think all that should be needed to have the government investigate your criticism of it is “significant complaints”? You’d have loved the Soviet Union—the proper involvment of the Justice Department is ZERO, and anything more is intimidation.

      • soviet union comparisons are hyperbolic since you would be in prison if this were the soviet union, and i for one dont like bread lines.

        as for the claim that the Justice Department’s proper involvement is ‘zero,’ you didnt specify if you mean in this (underreported) case, or in general. if the latter, that would include the FBI as well…without whose participation in civil righs violations claims, segregation and its heinous atrocities would no doubt persist. DOJ isnt perfect, but the idea that locals can perfectly police themselves for the greater good has long been discredited.

        no, i dont know who watches the watchers…an informed electorate i suppose. but civil rights is a perfect case example of libertarianism’s inherent inability to mete out fair justice except in some niche economic way.

        • The government. Any part. No business whatsoever. A float is expressive speech, and absent direct threats, and there were none, it doesn’t matter what some people felt was offensive, or even racist. Racism is not illegal. Nobody’s rights are violated by an anti-Obama float, and no citizen should fear the wrath of the DOJ or the IRS because he built one.

          • Well–and this will be the last thing I chime in about this point–we clearly don’t know the whole story…no news report I saw (and of course only right leaning media seemed to trump this non story) provided any substantive details about exactly WHAT re: the float was being investigated. Ergo you cant say “there were no direct threats.”. Otherwise I agree with you completely.

            So back to my first point…none of the reports I saw–including the original report–clearly excluded that very possibility that some kind of threat occurred.

            Kind of a small thing, but an example of slight of hand spin, I think.

            • I’m sorry, ZT, but this makes no sense to me. The float floated, people saw it. The designer explained what he intended. End of facts. What threat could there possibly be? No, there’s no reports that exclude the possibility of a threat. I’m watching the All-Star game, and I bet there will be no stories excluding the “possibility that some kind of threat occurred” about the game either, even though none DID occur. This surprises you?

              It is a story, and a legitimate news story, if the Federal government, any part of it, for any trumped up reason, knocks on the door of anyone remotely connected to the float or the parade. A mere complaint isn’t enough. The fact that mainstream media choose to ignore clear state chilling of free speech because it touches on criticism of this President just shows how corrupt, lazy or ignorant…pick one…our journalism is. I know you are bending over backwards to be fair, but when your forehead touches your heels, you’ve gone too far.

  3. The guy insulted the president, as is his right.
    My question is, at what point do fascists quit the pretense of needing some plausible reason, and just crush those who defy or piss them off? The bullshit here is in the magic words: ‘possible civil rights violation’. Oh my, let’s get that mofo’s tax returns over to the enforcement division ASAP, he insulted the Dear Leader; we’ll call it a ‘civil rights’ issue, you know, because of the black thing.
    I think the usual progression goes like this:
    1. They burnt the Reichstag! Get the bastards!
    2. They were going to burn the Reichstag! Get the bastards!
    3. They were formulating a plot to burn the Reichstag! Get the bastards!
    4. They were thinking about burning the Reichstag! Get the bastards!
    5. They are the sort of people who would burn the Reichstag! Get the bastards!
    and finally, of course:
    6. Fuck the Reichstag! Get the bastards!-no pretense offered.

    The slide into tyranny requires that a substantial portion of the populace happily acquiesce to the tyrants. Unfortunately, for us, today we have that circumstance, and our media is the the most cheerful and loyal of the acquiescent.

    • Unfortunately, reality dictates that a substantial portion of a governed population can also constitute a tyranny and a danger. Hard to strike a balance, but its not a priori true that an efficient, well run and moral government is logically impossible.

      • Perhaps. I’m convinced that there is a trip point where the attempted regulation of individual activity and the rate of confiscation of individual wealth DO make it logically impossible. The confiscation rate, or combined tax rate, of 30-35% seems to be about the limit before the slide begins. Attempted regulation of individual activity is naturally harder to quantify, but when thoughts become subject to Government regulation, and punishment, I submit that we aren’t sliding: we are there.

  4. Speaking of censorship, Twitter has apparently been bullied into taking down an absolutely hilarious parody account.

    I think the parody account headlines were too embarrassingly similar to Salon headlines yet too obviously ridiculous that Salon fans realized their utter idiocy.

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