10 Ethics Observations On The CNBC Republican Presidential Candidates Debate

cnbc_moderatorsnew

The transcipt is here.

1. Seldom are the  verdicts on a presidential debate as near unanimous as those on last night’s CNBC affair, in which Gov. John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, Gov. Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen.Ted Cruz, and Sen. Rand Paul took loaded questions from the CNBC panel of Becky Quick, John Harwood, and Carl Quintanilla. The questions and interjections from the moderators were so hostile, so disrespectful, so obviously concocted from a biased perspective, that the criticism came from all sides of the political spectrum.

Mostly the work of the CNBC trio was just unprofessional. The rules seemed arbitrary, the three talked over each other, they neither commanded nor deserved the participant’s cooperation. It was, correctly, called the smoking gun of news media bias, and a terrific honesty, fairness and integrity test for anyone watching. If you did and still say that it didn’t stench of a hostile exercise in media bias, then you lack all three. It was an embarrassment for CNBC and journalism.

2. Ironically, though the moderators were terrible, it arguably was the best debate yet for the Republicans. The hapless trio actually gave Sen. Ted Cruz a chance to show that you tangle with him at your peril, and to display his impressive mind and speaking ability. He said…

“Let me say something at the outset. The questions asked in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match. And you look at the questions — Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen? How about talking about the substantive issues? The contrast with the Democratic debate, where every thought and question from the media was, which of you is more handsome and why? Let me be clear: The men and women on this stage have more ideas, more experience, more common sense, than every participant in the Democratic debate. That debate reflected a debate between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. Nobody believes that the moderators have any intention of voting in a Republican primary. The questions being asked shouldn’t be trying to get people to tear into each other, it should be what are your substantive solutions to people at home.”

Bingo. Cruz’s perfectly delivered reprimand is being sloughed off by many in the press as a repeat of Newt Gingrich’s trick, in the 2012 debates, of routinely beating up on moderators regardless of what they asked. This, in contrast, was fair, accurate, as perfectly delivered as it was impressive. I had followed the debate closely, and I wouldn’t have been able to run down the list of hostile questions like that without checking notes. Cruz is probably the smartest candidate in the race. Too bad he’s a rigid ideologue and a demagogue with the charisma of a chain saw.

3. CNN’s comment on the Cruz slap-down: “Here’s an attack all Republicans can love.” This means, I suppose, that only Republicans care about having a news media that isn’t trying to manipulate national elections. That conclusion should offend all Democrats—unless, of course, it is true. The desire to have an unbiased and competent news media should not be a partisan issue. Continue reading

Joe Biden, The Republicans, And The Lawn Chair Test

lawn chairs

I’m not exactly disappointed that Biden passed on challenging Clinton and Sanders for the Democratic nomination, in part because if I ended up having to vote for him next November, I might have gone directly from the voting booth to the bridge. Still, ol’ Lunchbucket Joe would have offered some hope that a presidential candidate would emerge in this election cycle that it wouldn’t be historically irresponsible to vote for.

Conservative pundits keep writing that Biden would be identical to Obama, his third term. In our history, do you know how often that assumption has proven accurate.? Never. Van Buren was supposed to be Andy Jackson’s third term; Taft was Teddy’s, Bush was Reagan’s. The only difference now, and it is significant, is that in those three instances, the previous POTUS was strong and effective. Obama, on the other hand, has been weak, ineffective, destructive and incompetent. It is difficult to imagine how Biden could be worse.

Forget about Obama, though: why would Biden have been preferable to the Democrats who are serious candidates? Chafee and O’Malley aren’t worth discussing; they aren’t going to be on the ballot. As for the rest… Continue reading

A Final Post Debate Observation: Cognitive Dissonance And The Welch Effect

Rand Paul23I’m literally the only one writing about this—which is to say that everyone else is wrong— so I might as well wrap it up.

You will recall that I predicted (and hoped) that one of the candidates in the CNN debate on Wednesday would have the wit, historical perspective and guts to prepare a Joseph Welch take-down of Donald Trump, as it is an excellent way of shining harsh light on a bully and ethics miscreant. This is how lawyer Joseph Welch ended the reign of terror of Sen. Joe McCarthy on live TV in the medium’s “Golden Age,” and McCarthy was bigger and more deadly game than The Donald.

I wrote:

Will the same tactic work on Trump? It should: it would have worked in the first debate. Now, it may not, because many Welches will not be as effective as a single one, and I would not be surprised if several of Trump’s competitors will have a Welchism rehearsed. It also won’t work if the wrong Welch jumps in first, or if he blows his delivery. (Welch was quite an actor.) We shall see. If someone doesn’t at least try it, none of these 15 non-Trumps are  smart enough to be President.

Well, the Welch moment came almost immediately, as the first candidate with an opening to deliver it took his shot: Sen. Rand Paul. As I wrote in my follow-up piece yesterday, it wasn’t completely Welch-worthy, but it stung:

The Joseph Welch moment that I predicted occurred, though it was a wan and, as I feared, an incompetent version.  The Welch-wannabe was Rand Paul, and he directly referenced Trump’s “sophomoric” personal attacks, saying…

“Do we want someone with that kind of character, that kind of careless language to be negotiating with Putin? Do we want someone like that to be negotiating with Iran? I think really there is sophomoric a quality that is entertaining about Mr. Trump, but I am worried. I’m very concerned about having him in charge of the nuclear weapons because I think his response, his real response to attack people on their appearance, short, tall, fat, ugly. My goodness, that happened in junior high. Are we not way above that? Would we not all be worried to have someone like that in charge of the nuclear arsenal?”

…First, a Welch retort has to be delivered with withering contempt, not snotty combativeness. Second, the deliverer has to talk directly to the target; this is key. Not “he,” Senator. “YOU.” Third, whether or not the question was about the temperament of the man with his finger on the button, the danger of having a leader who behaves like Trump goes far beyond that….Still, Welch’s tactic worked a bit. Trump’s rejoinder, essentially “You’re ugly, too!”, got what sounded like awkward laughter, and Donald Trump, who is an entertainer, and who, like most experienced performers, can sense what an audience is feeling, was very subdued the rest of the debate.

What happened is that while the whole bucket of water didn’t land on the Wicked Trump, enough splashed on him to slow him down. When Fiorina delivered a mini-Welch later and Trump simpered his submissive “she’s got a beautiful face, and she’s a beautiful woman” line, he was still melting. She, more than anyone else, jumped in the vacuum left by Trump’s “shrinkage.” Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The Republican Presidential Candidates Debates

GOP debate

[I have another three hour legal ethics seminar (fifth seminar in six days, in four cities) to handle this morning, then I drive to Boston and fly to D.C. Getting up all the posts on the runway will be a challenge: wish me luck. I began the day at Ethics Alarms getting this nice message from a new commenter, a Mr. S M Tenneshaw, who wrote, “You’re not a joke, you’re a worthless piece of shit” in response to this controversial post from 2013. Ah, how exhilarating for that sentiment to be the day’s first contact with human life!]

Here are my comments on the marathon debate last night:

  • Jake Tapper did an extraordinary job at  being a fair, organized, efficient and firm moderator. I was in awe. I was less impressed with his  late innings resort to questions reminiscent of Barbara Walters’ infamous question to Katherine Hepburn, “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?’ [ NOTE: In the original post,, I incorrectly attributed this to Barbara’s Jimmy Carter interview, which was also cloying. Always got those two mixed up…] Later, after the debate, Tapper complained that there were some important questions he didn’t get to ask. If that’s true, Jake, why ask such silly ones as “What woman would you place on the ten dollar bill?,” and “What would your code name be as POTUS?” Some of the answers were inexplicable  (I had to have someone explain to me why Carly Fiorina said “Secretariat” as her code name. She was referencing her humble beginnings, not the Triple Crown winner…), some were alarming (Chris Christie wants to put the ADDAMS FAMILY on a bill? Oh, right, Abigail. ONE ‘D’. Good answer.) and some were pathetic pandering (Dr. Carson: “One Nation”? As the code name for the President? Uh, Ben, what are you doing?)

“Do we want someone with that kind of character, that kind of careless language to be negotiating with Putin? Do we want someone like that to be negotiating with Iran? I think really there is a sophomoric quality that is entertaining about Mr. Trump, but I am worried. I’m very concerned about having him in charge of the nuclear weapons because I think his response, his real response to attack people on their appearance, short, tall, fat, ugly. My goodness, that happened in junior high. Are we not way above that? Would we not all be worried to have someone like that in charge of the nuclear arsenal?”

Obviously nobody with any historical knowledge, theatrical sense and rhetorical skill coached Paul, who is apparently too arrogant to watch YouTube. First, a Welch retort has to be delivered with withering contempt, not snotty combativeness. Second, the deliverer has to talk directly to the target; this is key. Not “he,” Senator. “YOU.” Third, whether or not the question was about the temperament of the man with his finger on the button, the danger of having a leader who behaves like Trump goes far beyond that.

  • Still, Welch’s tactic worked a bit. Trump’s rejoinder, essentially “You’re ugly, too!” got what sounded like awkward laughter, and Donald Trump, who is an entertainer, and who, like most experienced performers, can sense what an audience is feeling, was very subdued the rest of the debate.

Continue reading

A Nation Of Assholes: The Ultimate, Undeniable And Crucial Reason Donald Trump Must Never Be President

assholesI have had this essay ready to go for at least a month; I honestly didn’t think it would be necessary to post it. Nonetheless,  I kept in on the bench, just in case. I was confident that the point to be made was too obvious, and that even those bitter, angry, irresponsible, ignorant whateverthehelltheyares who are keeping Trump’s candidacy afloat—and thus making it more difficult to sort out the real candidates—would have figured it out by now. I was wrong.

There are lots of reasons why Donald Trump shouldn’t be anyone’s candidate to be President. He is a narcissist, for one thing, and that is a pathology. Narcissists are dangerous in positions of power. He has no experience in politics, which he appears  to believe, based on his statements, consists primarily of bribing people, since that is what it largely means in his eternally corrupt businesses of construction and gambling, and pitching them things, which is not the same as persuasion.  He seems to think leading a company and leading a nation are similar jobs: they are not, though they involve some common skills. Trump is largely ignorant of most issues facing us, and takes pride in winging it, simply saying the first thing that pops into his mind. What Presidents of the United States say have cascading impact: think about the horrible consequences of Obama’s infamous “red line” statement, which has led to the willingness of despots and terrorists to defy U.S. interests and warnings, confident that nothing would be done by a confrontation-averse President. Anyone assuming President Trump would be different in this regard from candidate Trump is the sort of person who would trust Iran to follow a nuclear agreement, a current monstrosity that is also, in part, the result of Obama’s “red line” gaffe.

The one area where Trump has actually put forth a fleshed-out policy is red meat nonsense, completely unworkable and impractical, as well as offensive to core American values. That is his absurd “Deport them all, build a wall, amend the Constitution” illegal immigration prescription. Yes, the illegal immigration joint negligence perpetrated by greedy business interests and cynical Democratic party strategists who would trade the best interests of the nation and the rule of law for long term demographic trends favoring their party is infuriating and frightening. Still, proposing ludicrous solutions that can’t be accomplished (even if sane people wanted them to be) is neither a mark of intelligence nor responsible leadership.

Beyond immigration, Trump is all generalities and posturing. He’s “tough.” Tough can be good; tough without principles, and Trump appears to have none, is, by turns, bluster, stubbornness, cruelty, recklessness and bullying. Donald Trump really seems to have no regard for ethics at all, which makes him, by definition, untrustworthy. Being untrustworthy is an ethical deficiency no leader can have. Continue reading

Fox News Sunday Ethics Revelations: Wallace and Fiorina

Two things were stunningly in evidence during today’s interview of GOP Senate candidate Carly Fiorina (trying to unseat Barbara Boxer in California) by anchor Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”

The first is that Chris Wallace does not conform to the media stereotype of a Fox journalist, a thinly veiled Republican operative committed to pushing a conservative agenda. If only interviewers on CNN, NBC, CBS and ABC were so unwilling to accept evasion, half-truths and nostrums from Democrats. Kudos to Wallace for doing his job, not lobbing softballs, and exemplifying journalistic integrity where most people least expect it.

The second is that candidate Fiorina, yet another Tea Party darling, is a fake. Continue reading