When I wrote in September about Boston Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo abusing his paternal leave privileges to abandon his team at a crucial time in its battle to make 2021 the play-offs, I expected a lot of heated criticism (I didn’t, though I did get a provocative counter argument that became a Comment of the Day.) I wrote in part,
“The Boston Red Sox recently completed a disastrous collapse that dropped them from first place in the American League East to third. As they went into battle with the two teams now ahead of them, their hottest hitter, Alex Verdugo, vanished on a four game paternity leave. Shortly thereafter, another hot hitter, Hunter Renfroe, was lost for five days on bereavement leave after his father died of cancer. T’was not always thus: in the days before the Players’ Union bargained to add such mid-season leave as a new benefit, if a player’s wife was in labor or a loved one died, it was at the team’s discretion whether he would be permitted to leave the team. OK, I can appreciate the need for the benefit, but both players abused the right. These guys both earn millions of dollars a year. They both routinely talk about the team’s quest to win the World Series, yet when their team really needed them, they absented themselves for many days because they could. That’s a betrayal of the team, team mates, and fans.“
By the force of pure moral luck, Verdugo’s indulgence did no damage in the end: the Sox made the play-offs and have prospered (so far, though they lost last night), in great part because of Verdugo’s clutch hitting upon his return. That doesn’t change my ethics verdict on his dereliction of duty however (which the player reminds me of every time he gets a hit now, because Verdugo makes a baby-rocking gesture to his team mates in the dugout.) Compared to the Biden administration’s Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, however, Alex Verdugo is a model of dedication and responsibility.
Buttigieg and his husband Chasten adopted infant twins named Penelope and Joseph in August. The little bundles of joy arrived as product shortages and the supply chain problems had made themselves evident, a developing crisis that is worsening, and one that threatens the economy as well as businesses, jobs and the welfare of millions of Americans. It is also a situation squarely within the jurisdiction of the Transportation Department. Not since the airplane-executed terror attacks of September 11, 2001 has that agency had such a crucial task before it, nor have more Americans needed the performance of DOT to be diligent, timely, and effective.
Never mind! The Secretary of Transportation decided that this was still an appropriate time to take advantage of the Biden administration’s “family friendly” policies, and took two full months of paid leave while the supply chain problems multiplied and expanded. He wasn’t even online with his department during most of that time.
I apologize, Alex! Compared to Paternal Pete, you’re a self-sacrificing hero. I wish you were Secretary of Transportation.
Naturally, Buttigieg is defiant in his response to critics, which the mainstream news media is tarring as “conservatives”—you know, those mean, heartless people who just don’t care. No, those critics are properly called “People who understand what public service requires, what the obligations of a leader are and what professionalism means.” Obviously Buttigieg isn’t one of those people, and thus he is unqualified for his current job and any pubic office. As a professional and a public servant, Buttiegieg must be trusted by the public to put its needs first, not his own or those of his family, particularly during emergencies. Clearly, they can’t trust him.
To an ethicist who specializes in professional ethics (that’s me, by the way), Buttigieg’s excuses, deflections and rationalizations are infuriating. “It’s one thing to believe something as a matter of policy,” Buttigieg said about taking paid time off. “It’s another to live it and see how much of a difference it could make.” Difference to whom, Pete? How about the difference it makes to the millions of businesses, Americans and families who depend on you to do your job? Buttigieg doesn’t just not get it, he doesn’t even understand what “it” is.
Hey, if you want to put family first, that’s great, Pete. I support you! In fact, that’s why I run my own business, and work at home, which I began doing shortly after my wife and I adopted a baby boy from Russia. It’s a legitimate life choice. If you want to make that choice, however, there are some responsibilities you can’t take on. One of them is being Secretary of Transportation, unless you resolve to forgo “family friendly” benefits when the department and the nation need you.
The former South Bend mayor said on MSNBC yesterday that he was “blessed to be able to experience that as an employee being able to have the flexibility to take care of our newborn children, which is by the way work. It’s joyful work. It’s wonderful work, but it’s definitely work.”
But it’s not the work you pledged to so when your accepted the position of Secretary of Transportation. Like being a baseball player with unique skills, leaders aren’t fungible. They can delegate tasks, but they can’t go AWL (that’s Absent With Leave) and expect that objects of their responsibility won’t suffer. The adoptions happened to clash with one of the times when making another “job” the priority was neither practical, prudent nor defensible for Buttigieg.
If Buttigieg wanted to be a daddy when the nation needed a Secretary of Transportation, he had an obligation to resign. If he wanted to be an ethical professional and public servant, then his proper choice was to keep his parental leave to a minimum.