Independence Day Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/4/19: Jefferson, Amash, Snyder [UPDATED]

Happy birthday, USA!

1. Thomas Jefferson’s Day. Since Nike chose this time to announce that it was ashamed of the Revolutionary War flag, and Charlottesville similarly picked this week of all weeks to distance itself from it most famous and accomplished son,  it is appropriate to recall why Thomas Jefferson is the single American who should be most honored on the Fourth of July.

At the Foundation for Economic Education site (excellent site, by the way), the organization’s president, Lawrence W. Reed, offers a cogent rebuttal to those who would metaphorically (or literally) tear down Jefferson’s memorials because he could not find it in himself to stop practicing slave-holding while publicly making the case against it. Reed writes in part,

More than any other man or woman, July 4 belongs to Thomas Jefferson. As the principal author of the charter that proclaimed America’s independence and the reasons that impelled it, his spirit and his words are essentially what we celebrate on this day.

That such praise is not deemed “politically correct” in some quarters and may even evoke hostility in others is not a pleasant commentary on the state of current political dialogue. A kind of intertemporal bigotry is loose in the land. It prompts the virtue-signaling self-righteous to judge people of the past against the conventions of today. Isn’t it strange that evolution is accepted as natural in the biological world but often not in the realm of human thought?

…[H]umans didn’t support slavery one day and then oppose it when they all woke up the next. Some people never saw the light; others were against it from the moment it first entered their minds. Millions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were somewhere in between, and lots of them evolved on the issue over the course of their lives. In other words, they learned and they changed. That’s how humanity progresses.

Thanks to visionaries like Jefferson, Americans were forced eventually to end the contradiction between the words of the Declaration of Independence and the reality around them. Jefferson’s own words were evoked to accomplish that.

Historian Jim Powell, in his FEE article of July 1, 1995, titled “Thomas Jefferson’s Sophisticated, Radical Vision of Liberty,” addressed the slavery issue thusly.

“Though Jefferson had personal failings—in the case of slavery, a monstrous one—they don’t invalidate the philosophy of liberty he championed, any more than Einstein’s personal failings are evidence against his theory of relativity. Moreover, every one of Jefferson’s adversaries, past and present, had personal failings, which means that if ideas are to be dismissed because of an author’s failings, Jefferson and his adversaries would cancel each other out. When historians finish dumping on Jefferson, they still won’t have cleared the way for Karl Marx or whomever they admire. Jefferson’s accomplishments and philosophy of liberty must be recognized for their monumental importance.”

So yes, Thomas Jefferson wasn’t perfect. And neither are his critics. They should hope that across their entire lives, they might accomplish for liberty what Jefferson achieved in a few weeks of literary genius. He marshaled the English language on behalf of ideas, and they sparked liberty’s loudest thunderclap in human history….

2. Yes, Rep. Amash is an Ethics Dunce. One reason the Tea Party movement ran out of gas is that the elected officials who rose to power under its banner were mostly unqualified, doctrinaire, simplistic grandstanders who seemed to think bumper-sticker slogans are a substitute for reasoning. Amash is typical of the breed. He recently gained the praise of the Trump Deranged by declaring that the Mueller Report proves that the President engaged in “high crimes and misdemeanors” (it doesn’t, but any effort to undermine President Trump qualifies as heroic  to “the resistance”).  This predictably attracted a furious backlash in his district and his party, and Amash’s prospects for re-election in 2020 now appear to be about on par with John McCain’s.

His solution? Amash has declared that he is “disenchanted” and “frightened” by party politics, so he is leaving the Republican Party and becoming an Independent.

Party flipping mid-term is per se unethical, as I have pointed out here before.  He has a contract with his voters to serve in the party whose banner under which he presented himself for public service, and the party that helped fund his campaign. One of the few party-switchers in political history who did the deed ethically was former Texas  Senator Phil Gramm. [CORRECTION NOTICE: I had originally written “the late” here, because I was sure Gramm was dead. He’s not. I’m glad.] From my post about West Virginia’s Governor Jim  Justice, who switched from Democrat to Republican in 2017…

Just days after  he had been reelected to a House seat  as a Democrat in 1982, Gramm was thrown off the House Budget Committee in a dispute with party leadership. In response, Gramm resigned as a Representative, changed parties, and ran for his old seat as a Republican in a special election. He won easily, and  was a Republican ever after. That’s the honorable way to do it.

Rep. Amash isn’t honorable. He isn’t ethical. And after Election Day 2020, he won’t be in Congress.

Good. Continue reading

Saturday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/5/19: Bait And Switch, Inconvenient Honesty, Fake News

Oh, good morning, I guess…

1. Once again: this should be illegal, because it is unconscionable. Recently re-elected Rep. Don Marean, a multiple term Maine state legislator from York County, announced that he was leaving the Republican Party to become an Independent.  In a Friday text message last week, he said that “out of respect” for House Republicans  he would not  comment on the resaon for his decision and would let it “speak for itself.”

It does speak for itself; it tells us that Marean is an unscrupulous, liar who gained election to office fraudulently. Elected officials who betray voters this way have an ethical obligation to resign from office and run again under the party affiliation they will stick to.

2. Keep it up! Please! The freshman Democratic House members, in a single day, managed to strip away the mask of the Democratic Party and expose more of the ugliness beneath than the party veterans deemed wise. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) refused to be sworn in with her hand on the traditional Bible,  and insisted that a law book be used for the purpose instead. She is a member of the party that has been questioning whether Catholics are fit to be federal judges, and the message that one party is openly hostile to religion is becoming clearer and clearer. The Bible is a moral/ethical document, and accepting it for the purpose of a binding oath should not be a problem for anyone unless they are trying to make a point. Using a law book is no more appropriate or meaningful than using a Harry Potter novel: oaths are declarations of duty, honesty and integrity, not law. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: West Virginia Governor: Jim Justice

Gov Justice went to a Republican rally, and all he got was this T-shirt…seemed to fit, though…

I’ve written about party-switching by elected officials before; unfortunately, it was on the old Ethics Scoreboard, which is temporarily in limbo thanks to an incompetent web hosting service and some corrupted old disks. I can summarize the proper ethics standard for the practice, however. It was demonstrated perfectly by the  now retired former Republican U.S. Senator from Texas, Phil Gramm. Just days after  he had been reelected to a House seat  as a Democrat in 1982, Gramm was thrown off the House Budget Committee in a dispute with party leadership. In response, Gramm resigned as a Representative, changed parties, and ran for his old seat as a Republican in a special election. He won easily, and  was a Republican ever after. That’s the honorable way to do it.

Or, you could be like West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, who announced that he was flipping  from the Democratic Party to the GOP at last night’s  rally with President Trump. Continue reading