Anyone who understands President Obama’s behavior the last few months is invited to step forward, and anyone who has a benign explanation for it need to step in front of him. It is so bizarre and unprecedented that amateurs and professionals alike are offering psychological diagnoses. Has any American leader ever responded to failure, adversity and crisis with this kind of a disgraceful combination of defiance, bitterness, and detachment? I can’t think of any.
It is said that during the darkest days of Watergate, President Nixon sank into depression. Franklin Pierce coped with the stress of watching the Union unravel over slavery by staying smashed as much as possible. Woodrow Wilson’s battles with Congress probably helped provoke the stroke that incapacitated him. None of these are really comparable to the current President sinking to gratuitous campaign mode, calling Republicans derogatory names and impugning their motives and humanity, while openly alternating between obsessive fundraising and vacationing the rest of the time as the world is desperate for American leadership.
Say what you will about Bill Clinton, and I often do, but the man never capitulated, gave up, or stopped battling no matter how much (legitimate) fire he was under during the Monica scandal and his impeachment. At very least, one would think Barack Obama would see the need, as past Presidents have, to model virtues like diligence, responsibility, fortitude, courage, and perseverance for the nation, especially the young.
Nope. Continue reading
“I think that Birgeneau, in turn, responded intemperately, failing to make proper allowance for the immature, and, yes, arrogant inclinations of some protestors. Aggravated as he had every right to be, I think he should be with us today.”
—— William G. Bowen, former Princeton President and last-minute substitute 2014 Commencement speaker at Haverford College. Bowen’s predecessor as Haverford’s designated graduation VIP, former Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, had withdrawn in response to Haverford student protests that he had been too tough on the Occupy Berkeley protesters.
“Honored graduates: My advice is that when faced with determined opposition, if you know you are right, run away. Thank you.”
Yes, bravo. Many pundits have commented on the epidemic of anti-free expression attitudes on campus, as various groups on campuses across the country have effectively vetoed speakers at Commencements and other forums that threatened to disturb their unshakeable belief in the infallibility of their judgment and analysis of the world before their 22n’t birthday. Yes, students are arrogant, immature, intolerant, easily misled and often ridiculous; we knew that. Thus it is up to the adults to set them straight and teach them some useful life lessons. One such lesson should be to refuse to back down in the face of criticism and opposition just because it will require character, fortitude and courage to do what you have every right to do. Continue reading
The 2012 Red Sox season
I’ve been meaning to write this post for more than a month, almost two., for it has been that long since I have watched a Boston Red Sox game, or indeed any baseball game at all. This, I knew, was complete abdication of everything I believe about loyalty, courage, faithfulness and gratitude, yet I could not force myself to meet my own standards, and I am ashamed.
For I hate sports fans like that, feckless, fair weather, Sunday soldiers who root loudly for their team when things are good, and who defect to the booers and the doubters when the tides of fortune turn. I have been the most loyal and faithful of Boston baseball fans since my childhood. I watched or listened to every game when the team was annually awful, from 1962-1966, and yet got reserved seats for the final series of the 1967 season a year in advance, because I thought, absurdly, that the team might be in a pennant race. (And I was right!) I endured team collapses and disappointments in many seasons since—all the famous ones, and others that only a dedicated lifelong fan would remember.
What happened to me this year? Continue reading
Sometimes the Enabling Virtues will save an army, and sometimes they’ll get you killed.
July 3, 1863 was the date of Pickett’s Charge, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered a desperate Napoleonic advance against the Union line at Gettysburg in what has come to be a cautionary tale in human bravery and military hubris. The same day marked the zenith of the career of George Armstrong Custer, the head-strong, dashing cavalry officer who would later achieve both martyrdom and infamy as the unwitting architect of the massacre known as Custer’s Last Stand.
Custer’s heroics on the decisive final day of the Battle of Gettysburg teach their own lessons, historical and ethical. Since the East Calvary Field battle has been thoroughly overshadowed by the tragedy of Pickett’s Charge, it is little known and seldom mentioned. Yet the truth is that the battle, the war, and the United States as we know it may well have been saved that day by none other than undisciplined, reckless George Armstrong Custer. Continue reading
The Late Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax
[Not many people were checking in on Ethics Alarms when I wrote this post in response to yet another example of bystanders choosing to do nothing when a human being was in peril. Some of the comments to the Alameda post, those making excuses for the 75 faint-hearted or apathetic citizens in that city who would rather gawk at a tragedy than try to stop it, caused me to recall the essay, which explores related issues. I wrote it, but I had nearly forgotten about the story; when I re-read it today, I got upset all over again.Here, for the second time, is “What Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax Can Teach America.”]
The one with the premium-grade ethics alarms bled to death on the sidewalk. The people who never had theirs installed at all took pictures. Is this the way it’s going to be? Continue reading
The Los Angeles Times compared the themes and tones of President Obama’s speeches in 2008 and now, again on the campaign trail but facing a very different set of challenges. What they discovered was both provocative and depressing:
“His message of national unity and reconciliation had been replaced by a stark warning against cynical Republican tactics, vague threats to America’s political system and the urgent need to keep the GOP marginalized. There was less hope, more fear…
Obama in Portland suggested that “foreign-controlled corporations” were bankrolling a “misleading, negative” ad campaign that serves Republicans, but offered no evidence.”We don’t know,” he said. Continue reading
The one with the premium-grade ethics alarms bled to death on the sidewalk. The people who never had them installed at all took pictures. Is this the way it’s going to be?
Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax was a Guatemalan immigrant who lived in Queens, New York. His life was a mess; he was destitute, ill, and had no job or likelihood of getting one. When he saw a knife-wielding man apparently assaulting a woman on the street two weeks ago, however, he knew what his ethical obligations were. He rescued her by intervening in the struggle, and got stabbed, badly, for his actions. The attacker ran off, and so did the woman, who didn’t check on Hugo after he fell, and never contacted the police. She also neglected to say, “Thanks for saving my life.” Continue reading