Tag Archives: President Richard Nixon

A Popeye: I Just Can’t Let This Ridiculous Quote Pass…

I could headline this as an Ethics Dunce, an Unethical Quote, a “Stop making me defend Donald Trump” or even a KABOOM!, but it’s really a Popeye. The upcoming statement by Matt Miller, previously a spokesperson for the Holder Justice Department, could be easily ignored—who the hell is Matt Miller?—except that it breaks my chutzpah meter, and more than that, is designed to be recirculated as an indignant talking point by Democrats who haven’t cracked a history book since they were 12, or who are just plain liars.

After the Justice Department announced that it was taking another look at Hilary Clinton’s shenanigans with her secret email server (and perhaps the Clinton Foundation), Miller told The Daily Beast (echoing Holder, who has made similar statements),

“The president’s ongoing campaign to tear down the wall between the Justice Department and the White House seems to be working.”

Wall between the White House and the Justice Department? If there had been such a “wall,” President Kennedy obliterated it in 1960 when he appointed his brother as  Attorney General while Bobby was also serving as JFK’s primary political advisor. Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, had been the director of Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign, and was one of Nixon’s closest personal friends. Ronald Reagan’s second Attorney General was his longtime friend and political aide Ed Meese, who had previously served as Reagan’s Chief of Staff! Some wall! Continue reading

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Ethics Quote Of The Week: Peggy Noonan

“Why does all this matter? Because we are losing history. It is not the fault of Hollywood, as they used to call it, but Hollywood is a contributor to it. When people care enough about history to study and read it, it’s a small sin to lie and mislead in dramas. But when people get their history through entertainment, when they absorb the story of their times only through screens, then the tendency to fabricate is more damaging. Those who make movies and television dramas should start caring about this. It is wrong in an age of lies to add to their sum total. It’s not right. It will do harm.”

—-Former Reagan speechwriter and current columnist Peggy Noonan, after citing the material historical misrepresentations in the Netflix series “The Crown” and the new Spielberg film, “The Post.”

I have written about the ethics of misrepresenting history in films many times, always facing the “Lighten up! It’s just a movie!” chorus. As Noonan explains deftly, the stakes are different now, in an age of rotten public education, mass media and internet indoctrination. The first time I wrote about this issue was 2010, in the post “Titanic” Ethics. It concluded in part,

I don’t blame Cameron for not basing his portrayal on evidence that only was clarified years after his film. I fault him for discounting the testimony of survivors, and misinforming the public by plastering a false version on a giant screen for millions to see, knowing that they would trust that a man who would insist that the doomed ship’s china pattern was accurate…Now the film is back, bigger than ever, and false representations of Officer Murdock, “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, the sinking itself, and other aspects of the iconic event will be embedded even deeper into our historical understanding. It didn’t have to be that way, and it is wrong that it is. History, the public, and the 1500 who died that night in 1912 deserve better.

I’ve seen “The Crown,” and like it a lot. The portrayals that Noonan complains about, however, especially the suggestion that Jack Kennedy abused Jackie, rang false immediately. As for “The Post,” which I haven’t seen, Noonan calls out a misrepresentation of a cultural villain whom the film-makers probably thought nobody would rise to defend: Continue reading

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Ethics Heroes: The Nixon Foundation And The Richard Nixon Presidential Library

Pop Quiz: Who is missing from this picture from the dedication of the Nixon Library in 1990, and why?

Pop Quiz: Who is missing from this picture from the dedication of the Nixon Library in 1990, and why?

I can’t stand the Kennedy Library in Boston, with all its triumphal, sentimental hagiography of both Jack and Bobby. A presidential library will naturally try to put the best spin on the accomplishments, failures, and character deficits of its subject, but it has an obligation to history too. I once was determined to visit all of the libraries, but after the first few I decided that these structures were more like the pyramids than fair and enlightening representations of the men they honored.

The worst in this respect, as you might guess, was the infamous Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California, which opened 26 years ago.The Watergate exhibit, approved by Nixon himself, painted Nixon as an innocent and heroic victim brought down by the media  and his sinister foes. This was certainly Nixon’s view, but it has no relationship to reality. So convinced was Congress that the Richard Nixon Presidential Library would display the same lack of ethics as its namesake that it passed a law in 1974 requiring his presidential records to be stored with the National Archives and out of the library’s control, where they might be altered or “lost.”

Nixon’s library entered the official presidential library system under the auspices of the National Archives in 2007, and to finally make it more than the presidential library equivalent of  Fantasyland, the Nixon Foundation ordered the old Watergate exhibit to be overhauled. Continue reading

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Encore! Presidents Day Ethics: The Presidents of the United States on Ethics and Leadership

It’s President’s Day, and I see that it has been five years since the most popular Ethics Alarms President’s Day post was published. That one, from 2011, reminds us of the ethics wisdom and leadership acumen of the remarkable men who have served their country in the most challenging, difficult, and ethically complicated of all jobs, the U.S. Presidency.

In the middle of a campaign season littered with some disturbingly unethical candidates, it seems especially appropriate to re-post that entry now….with some updates. In 2011, I left out three Presidents, including the current one. Now all are represented, most of them well.

So…

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Presidents of the United States of America:

 

George Washington: “I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”

John Adams: “Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.” 

Thomas Jefferson: “On great occasions every good officer must be ready to risk himself in going beyond the strict line of law, when the public preservation requires it; his motives will be a justification…”

James Madison: “No government any more than any individual will long be respected without being truly respectable.”

James Monroe: “The best form of government is that which is most likely to prevent the greatest sum of evil.”

John Quincy Adams: “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

Andrew Jackson: “One man with courage makes a majority.”   (Attributed)

Martin Van Buren: “No evil can result from its inhibition more pernicious than its toleration.”

William Henry Harrison: “There is nothing more corrupting, nothing more destructive of the noblest and finest feelings of our nature, than the exercise of unlimited power.” Continue reading

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Revisiting The Ethics Alarms Web Hoax Scale

Funny! Also deserved. But wrong...

Funny! Also deserved. But wrong…

To quote myself, planting false facts in the information supply may not make people sick like putting poison in the water supply, but it is damaging enough to be recognized as not worth tolerating for the occasional giggle. A year ago, I introduced the Ethics Alarms Web Hoax Scale,inspired by yet another unethical trick by the loathsome Jimmy Kimmel. As it turned out, 2014 was a banner year for web hoaxes, due to the activity of a couple webs sites that only exist to deceive the news media and make every American certain that they shouldn’t trust anything they read, anywhere.

As you know if you’ve read much here, I detest web hoaxes. I’m also not too crazy about those who use them to announce their superiority to the people who were fooled, essentially saying, “It’s harmless, unless you’re not smart enough to get it—like you.” This attitude emboldens and rationalizes for the hoaxers. I’ve fallen for some, usually when a source I trust has preceded me, marring the site with a post based on a lie. I don’t think it’s funny to make others involuntary accessories to deception.

I was reminded of the Web Hoax Scale, which, like the Race-baiting Scale, I want to finalize before making it a permanent part of the Ethics Alarms tool box, when my least favorite Republican Presidential candidate, Rand Paul, launched a fake Hillary Clinton site on Pinterest. It would have been a #1 on the original hoax scale , rated as harmless because no one who had ever heard of Hillary and who could beat my dog at Scrabble would think it was anything but a gag. (Should a hoax that doesn’t and can’t fool anyone qualify as a hoax at all?) I was going to write, however, that in this context, a fake website is inherently unethical whether it is recognized as such or not, and I have reflected that position in the revision of the scale. Continue reading

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A Presidents Day Celebration (PART 4 and Final): The Wild, Wild Ride From FDR to W.

smiling-presidents

All of the Presidents (except FDR) in this last section were alive and kicking while I was, and so to me they are both more real and less fascinating to some extent. Familiarity breeds, if not contempt, a tendency not to idealize. These leaders are no more flawed than their predecessors, they just seem that way thanks to mass media.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin Roosevelt

Three terms plus, a World War, a Depression, a transformative Presidency and an epic life spent in public service: FDR is another President who can’t be summed up in an anecdote, one book, or a hundred. He accomplished enough great things to be a deserving icon; he committed enough wrongs to be judged a villain. (He was pretty clearly a sociopath, but a lot of great leaders are, including a fair proportion of ours, including some of the best.) The only completely unfair verdict on this Roosevelt is not to acknowledge the importance and complexity of his life. Here are some of my favorite items about him:

  • FDR wrote down a plan when he was still in school outlining the best way for him to become President. The plan was essentially to follow his distant cousin Theodore’s career steps: Harvard, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, Vice-Presidential candidate, and President. (He skipped “Rough Rider.”) Amazingly, he followed it, and it worked.
  • Conventional wisdom holds that FDR’s polio transformed his character, and that without that crisis and challenge he would have been content to be a rich dilettante. I doubt it, but there is no question that he fits the Presidential survivor template, and that his ordeal made him stronger, more formidable and more determined.
  • Many Presidents had strong mothers, especially, for some reason, many of our Chief Executives from Roosevelt to Obama. Franklin’s mom, however, wins the prize. It’s amazing Eleanor didn’t murder her. But Mrs. Roosevelt is why Eleanor was there in the first place: all of our Presidents raised by strong mothers married very strong wives.
  • If a computer program were designed to create the perfect American leader, it would give us FDR. He was the complete package; his charisma, charm and power radiate from recordings and films that are 90 years old. That smile! That chin! That head! That voice! He is one of the very few Presidents who would be just as  popular and effective today as the era in which he lived.
  • And just as dangerous. FDR is also a template for an American dictator, which, I believe, he would have been perfectly willing to be. It’s no coincidence that Franklin was the only President to break Washington’s wise tradition of leaving office after two terms.
  • Political and philosophical arguments aside, at least four of Roosevelt actions as President were horrific, and would sink the reputation of most leaders: 1) Imprisoning Japanese-Americans (and German-Americans, too); 2) Ignoring the plight of European Jews as long as he did, when it should have been clear what was going on; 3) Handing over Eastern Europe to Stalin, and 4) Knowing how sick he was, giving little thought or care to who his running mate was in 1944.
  • Balancing all that, indeed outweighing it, is the fact that the United States of America and quite possibly the free world might not exist today if this unique and gifted leader were not on the scene. Three times in our history, the nation’s existence depended on not just good leadership, but extraordinary leadership, and all three times, the leader we needed emerged: Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin. I wouldn’t count on us being that lucky again.

I left the bulk of reflection about the character and leadership style of Theodore Roosevelt to one of Teddy’s own speeches to embody, and I’ll do the same for his protege.

On September 23, 1932, New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a speech at Manhattan’s Commonwealth Club. (Everyone, conservative, liberal or moderate, should read it….here.) It was a defining statement of progressive principles and modern liberalism, redefining core American values according to the perceived needs of a changing nation and culture.  It is a radical speech, and would be regarded as radical by many today, even after much of what Roosevelt argued was reflected in the policies of the New Deal.

After sketching the origins and progress of the nation to the present, he flatly stated that the Founders’ assumptions no longer applied:

A glance at the situation today only too clearly indicates that equality of opportunity as we have know it no longer exists. Our industrial plant is built; the problem just now is whether under existing conditions it is not overbuilt. Our last frontier has long since been reached, and there is practically no more free land. More than half of our people do not live on the farms or on lands and cannot derive a living by cultivating their own property. There is no safety valve in the form of a Western prairie to which those thrown out of work by the Eastern economic machines can go for a new start. We are not able to invite the immigration from Europe to share our endless plenty. We are now providing a drab living for our own people….

Just as freedom to farm has ceased, so also the opportunity in business has narrowed. It still is true that men can start small enterprises, trusting to native shrewdness and ability to keep abreast of competitors; but area after area has been preempted altogether by the great corporations, and even in the fields which still have no great concerns, the small man starts with a handicap. The unfeeling statistics of the past three decades show that the independent business man is running a losing race. Perhaps he is forced to the wall; perhaps he cannot command credit; perhaps he is “squeezed out,” in Mr. Wilson’s words, by highly organized corporate competitors, as your corner grocery man can tell you.

Recently a careful study was made of the concentration of business in the United States. It showed that our economic life was dominated by some six hundred odd corporations who controlled two-thirds of American industry. Ten million small business men divided the other third. More striking still, it appeared that if the process of concentration goes on at the same rate, at the end of another century we shall have all American industry controlled by a dozen corporations, and run by perhaps a hundred men. Put plainly, we are steering a steady course toward economic oligarchy, if we are not there already.

Clearly, all this calls for a re-appraisal of values.

So Franklin Roosevelt re-appraised them: Continue reading

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Is The President Checking Out A “High Crime or Misdemeanor”?

Toppled-King

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

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