Of Unfairness, Petards, and the Golden Rule

Here is the problem.

When you become desperate, and spring to manipulate gaffes, misstatements, over-heard comments and poor choices of words into unfair and disproportionate campaign attacks, you set the ground rules for your opponents as well. Unless you really have a bombshell—I’d say Romney’s 47% comment was a bombshell—the tactic is a poor risk, as well as being unethical. No candidate, nor any of his or her supporters, should try to make political points from off-the- cuff remarks, unless they reach Todd Akin-like levels of offensiveness and stupidity. They should apply the Golden Rule, for their own protection, as well as the principle’s ethical virtues.Indeed, Presidential candidates should pledge—to each other and to the public—to run campaigns about substance, not slips of the tongue.

I would have thought the Democrats would have learned this; I would think any politician would have learned this. But they are worried, and falling in the polls, so when Mitt Romney awkwardly talked about his “binders full of women” in the second debate, liberal pundits and Democrats decided to make this the latest way to ridicule Mitt, taking its place aside “I like to fire people,” and “corporations are people,” but sillier than either, though no more unfair. The attacks on those statements were unethical; this attack was outrageous. More important, it re-emphasized that in this dirty campaign, intentionally warped and unforgiving interpretations of statements that the candidates wish they had said better are acceptable weapons of choice, as unfair and misleading as that choice is.

So, as a result, when their candidate makes a far, far worse gaffe, as Obama did by telling “the Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart that “If four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal,” they can expect no mercy from the media, their conservative adversaries, or anyone else, including me. Is the statement as bad as it sounds? No. Does it show that Obama doesn’t care about the death of his ambassador and three other Americans? No. Will it be perceived that way anyway? Yes, absolutely, and because it will, the Republicans will run with it hard, and no Democrat who harped on Romney’s more trivial foot-stuffing exercises can credibly complain.

So they are going to have to live with the mother of one of those slain in Benghazi, telling the press,

“It’s insensitive to say my son is not very optimal – he is also very dead. I’ve not been “optimal” since he died and the past few weeks have been pure hell.”

And they are going to have to put up with this:

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“Are You a Flake?” Ethics

"Are you Michele Bachman?"

With only four well-chosen words, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace accomplished several objectives Sunday, all of them in the best tradition of ethical, objective, responsible journalism.

The words were “Are you a flake?,” posed to Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who is running for President.  The question…

1. Properly forced a conservative darling to address her most striking weakness, belying Fox’s well-deserved reputation for bias toward figures its viewers admire…

2. Was a near-perfect example of the “off-the-wall” question technique, which has exposed more than one pretender to high office (Hello, Mike Dukakis!) as less than desirable.

3. Simultaneously gave Bachmann an opportunity to show how quick she could think on her feet while demonstrating important leadership traits like self-awareness, humor, wit, and grace, or, in the alternative, demonstrate the opposite.

How did she do? Well. Judge for yourself: Continue reading

The Strange Case of the Threatening Hypothetical

Lawrence Connell, a tenured associate professor at Widener University School of Law in Delaware, is fond of using famous or familiar people in the hypotheticals he presents to his criminal law class.  One of his imaginary scenarios involved him as a murderer, and the school’s Dean as his victim. Now he is on administrative leave from the school, as administrators investigate  him for using “violent scenarios” that some students complained violated the school’s discrimination and harassment codes.

Widener University spokesman Dan Hanson, meanwhile, has declined to provide more details on the matter, but insists that Widener is committed to academic freedom.

Right. Continue reading

Dishonoring Honors: Tina Fey, Derek Jeter and the Death of Award Integrity

We should have seen this coming. Once the most prestigious award of all, the Nobel Peace Prize, was bestowed on President Obama because, to paraphrase Sally Field, “They liked him! They really liked him!,” it was clear that the whole concept of maintaining the integrity of awards was being abandoned. More dispiriting proof arrived yesterday in the fields of comedy and baseball, when the Mark Twain Prize, given to artists who have made major and significant contributions to American comedy, was awarded to Tina Fey, and the Gold Glove Award for the American League’s best fielding shortstop went to New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Continue reading