Monday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/28/20: Happy Birthday, Woodrow Wilson!

2020 end

As 2020 staggers to a conclusion, Ethics Alarms wants to express its gratitude to the core of devoted Alarmist commentators who kept the dialogue going during what is always an annual cratering of blog traffic. I appreciate it. I also appreciated the many kind holiday wishes, in what has been a muted Christmas for the Marshalls for a number of reasons I won’t bore you with.

In case you were among the missing, I draw your attention to…

…among other hopefully edifying and entertaining posts.

1. After signalling otherwise or perhaps just trolling, President Trump signed the truly awful pandemic relief and omnibus spending bill, really sending the national debt into orbit. One theory is that doing so was necessary to avoid a Democratic sweep of the two Senate seats up for grabs in Georgia. I will file the event as one more car on the Wuhan Virus Ethics Train Wreck, and one that will do more damage in the long run than most of them.

2. In Nevada, Gabrielle Clark filed a federal lawsuit against her son’s charter school last week for refusing to let him opt out of a mandatory class that promotes anti-white racism. It claims that Democracy Prep at the Agassi Campus forced William Clark “to make professions about his racial, sexual, gender and religious identities in verbal class exercises and in graded, written homework assignments,” creating a hostile environment, and subjecting he son’s statements ” to the scrutiny, interrogation and derogatory labeling of students, teachers and school administrators,” who are “still are coercing him to accept and affirm politicized and discriminatory principles and statements that he cannot in conscience affirm.” The lawsuit includes nearly 150 pages of exhibits documenting the curriculum in the graduation requirement “Sociology of Change,” which promotes intersectionality and critical race theory, in breach of what was promised when the Clark’s first sent their son to the school.

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Comment Of The Day: “Today’s Chaos, Ethics And Alternate History Note: Teddy’s Fateful Decision”

This unique Comment of the Day, by Steve-O-in NJ,  has come closer to cheering me up than anything else today. Taking of from my post about the historical chaos set off by Theodore Roosevelt’s decision to split the Republican Party in 1912, Steve-O draws on his impressive knowledge of history to give us what Paul Harvey called, “The rest of the story. Well, what would have been the rest of the story.

Here is Steve-O’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Today’s Chaos, Ethics And Alternate History Note: Teddy’s Fateful Decision”:

I’m late to the table, but I love playing “what if?” So, here’s my take on the alternative future where Teddy Roosevelt did not run in 1912. He was a year back from Europe and disgusted that Taft was approaching the task of governing completely different than he had. To Roosevelt, a president was a trustee of the people’s power, to use it for them as best he saw fit. Taft saw the president as more a chief magistrate, who should be careful not to exceed his enumerated powers – when not hitting the links. Roosevelt swore he’d topple Taft, if not as the Republican nominee, then as the nominee of his own party. However, a few of his friends who could talk to him frankly told him, “Ted, there are times you act like you’re about six years old, but this is the six-year-oldiest. You can run, but all it will do is split the Republican vote and hand the White House to that dead-eyed, ivory-tower, political neophyte from Princeton. Is that what you want? This country isn’t yours to use for your own vendetta or destroy when you don’t get your way.”

Angry, but seeing the point, Teddy dropped out of public life and retired to Sagamore House in Oyster Bay to write and figure out what was next for him at 54. Although he took no part in the 1912 election, his neutrality was enough to guarantee Taft a second term and send Woodrow Wilson back into academia. Vice President James Sherman died shortly before the election. As a gesture to his former friend, who he still respected, Taft replaced him with political sage and longtime Republican public servant Elihu Root. Roosevelt’s account of his many meetings with the rulers of Europe during his time there, “The Gilded Path,” was published in 2013, and his proposal for a stronger international community and a possible international court, “A Firmer Foundation,: was published the next year…a month before the assassination of Franz Ferdinand touched off a war between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, and the Kaiser foolishly delivered “the German Blank Check.” Continue reading

Today’s Chaos, Ethics And Alternate History Note: Teddy’s Fateful Decision

On this day in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt was nominated to run for  Presidency by the newly formed Progressive Party, quickly dubbed “the Bull Moose Party” after Teddy said he felt like Bull Moose. Roosevelt’s platform called for the direct election of U.S. Senators, woman suffrage, and many social reforms based on fair business competition and increased welfare for the poor. As anyone could have told Roosevelt and many tried, this move was based on vanity and anger, and almost certainly ensured that Woodrow Wilson would end up President after Republicans split their votes between Roosevelt and President Taft. Wilson was indeed elected, and the result for the country was disastrous. A proud racist, Wilson endorsed Jim Crow and eliminated what had been the gradual racial liberalization of government agencies. He took the U.S. into World War I, something a re-elected President Taft would not have done (but, alas, Teddy would have, since he liked wars), helping to spread the Spanish flu world -wide. Wilson allowed the treaty ending he  war to be excessively punitive to Germany, planting the seeds of World War II, the Holocaust, and the rise of the Soviet Union. Continue reading

A Presidents Day Celebration (PART 3): When The Going Got Tough

 presidents.

The Presidents really get interesting now, as a political leadership culture in the U.S. matures, the stakes of failure become greater, and technology, labor upheaval, expanding big business and greater influence on world affairs transforms the Presidency into truly the toughest job on earth.

Grover Cleveland

grover

Another one of my favorites, Cleveland was known for telling the truth ( he as called “Grover the Good”), but he participated in one of the most elaborate deceptions in Presidential history.

As explained in historian Matthew Algeo’s 2011 book, “The President Is a Sick Man,”  President Cleveland noticed an odd bump on the roof of his mouth in the summer of 1893, shortly after he took office for the second time. (Cleveland is the only President with split terms, the hapless Republican Benjamin Harrison winning an electoral college victory that gave him four years as the bland filling in a Cleveland sandwich.) The bump was diagnosed as a life-threatening malignant tumor, and the remedy was removal. Cleveland believed that news of his diagnosis would send Wall Street and the country  into a panic at a time when the economy was sliding into a depression anyway, and agreed to an ambitious and dangerous plan to have the surgery done in secret. The plan was for the President to announce he was taking a friend’s yacht on a four-day fishing trip from New York to his summer home in Cape Cod. Unknown to the press and the public was that the yacht had been transformed into a floating operating room, and a team of six surgeons were assembled and waiting.

The 90 minute procedure employed ether as the anesthesia, and the doctors removed the tumor, five teeth and a large part of the President’s upper left jawbone, all at sea. They also managed to extract the tumor through the President’s mouth while leaving no visible scar and without altering Cleveland’s walrus mustache. Talking on NPR in 2011, historian said,

“I talked to a couple of oral surgeons researching the book, and they still marvel at this operation: that they were able to do this on a moving boat; that they did it very quickly. A similar operation today would take several hours; they did it in 90 minutes.”

But the operation was a success. An artificial partial upper jaw made of rubber was installed to replace the missing bone, and Cleveland, who had the constitution of a moose, reappeared after four days looking hardy and most incredible of all, able to speak as clearly as ever. How did he heal so fast? Why wasn’t his speech effected? He endures doctors cutting out a large chuck of his mouth using 19th century surgical techniques and is back on the job in less than a week? No wonder nobody suspected the truth.

Then, two months later, Philadelphia Press reporter E.J. Edwards published a story about the surgery, thanks to one of the doctors anonymously breaching doctor-patient confidentiality. Cleveland, who in his first campaign for the White House had dealt with Republican accusations that he had fathered an illegitimate child by publicly admitting it, flatly denied Edwards’ story, and his aides  launched a campaign to discredit the reporter. Grover the Good never lies, thought the public, so Edwards ended up where Brian Williams is now. His career and credibility were ruined.

Nobody outside of the participants knew about the operation and the President’s fake jaw until twenty-four years later, after all the other principals were dead except three witnesses.  One of the surgeons decided to  publish an article to prove that E.J. Edwards had been telling the truth after all.

This is a great ethics problem. Was it ethical for Cleveland to keep his health issues from the public? In this case, yes, I’d say so. Was it unethical for the doctor to break his ethical duty? Of course. Was Edwards ethical to report the story? Sure.

The tough question is: Was Cleveland ethical to deny the story and undermine the reporter’s credibility? I think it was a valid utilitarian move, and barely ethical: it was better for the nation to distrust one reporter than the President, especially when his secret was one he responsibly withheld, and his doctor unethically revealed. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Leon Panetta’s Memoirs, and Reconsidering Ethics Alarms’ Absolute Condemnation Of Such Books”

Obama's role model?

Obama’s role model?

Some thoughts as I read the comment below from Ethics Alarms stalwart Steve-O-in-NJ:

  • Woodrow Wilson is indeed, in many ways, one of the best comps for President Obama.
  • Yet there are still many, even those whose updates appear on my own Facebook page, who will shout to the skies that all such criticisms are partisan, racist, unfair attacks on a marvelous, brilliant, misunderstood  Chief Executive.
  • Why is that fading breed of Democrats fading? And where are the statesmanlike Republicans? Is there one?

Here is Steve’s Comment of the Day on the post, Leon Panetta’s Memoirs, and Reconsidering Ethics Alarms’ Absolute Condemnation Of Such Books:
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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

Rahm Emanuel, History and Hyperbole Ethics

There are times when obvious exaggeration is nothing worse than politeness, nothing more than an expression of admiration and affection. “You’re the best boss anyone ever had,” is in this category, especially when the boss is retiring or dying. But when one is speaking in public about controversial and historical matters involving well-known public figures, the margin between excusable hyperbole and unethical dishonesty or worse is much smaller. Al Gore learned this when he played loyal Vice-President on the day his President was impeached by vote of the House of Representatives. Gore’s statement that Bill Clinton was “a man I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest Presidents” was intended as supportive, but interpreted as a toadying endorsement of Clinton’s unsavory and dishonest conduct, impeachable or not. It probably cost Gore the Presidency.

Worse yet was Trent Lott’s clumsy effort to praise the ancient, infirm and mentally failing Sen. Strom Thurmond at his 100th birthday party. Lott said, “I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have all these problems over all these years, either.” Thurmond, running on the Dixiecrat ticket, had opposed segregation, and Lott’s comment, less fact than flattery, made him sound like he longed for the days of Jim Crow and “white only”rest rooms. The lessons of these hyperbolic gaffes are similar: if the well-intentioned compliment concerns a public figure in historical context, historical exaggerations either appear to be unjust to history or its important figures, seem to make inappropriate value judgments, or come off as a blatant effort to mislead the public.

Rahm Emanuel hit the Trifecta with his fawning farewell to President Obama, as he left the White House to run for Mayor of Chicago. Obama, he said, is “the toughest leader any country could ask for, in the toughest times any president has ever faced.”

Wow. Continue reading

Obama’s Preference: Ethically Correct, Historically Impossible

“I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president,” President Obama told Diane Sawyer. That is the right attitude, unquestionably. It correctly places responsibility over popularity, accountability over expediency, courage and conviction over cowardice, and generally endorses ethics and duty over unethical considerations.

The statement is admirable, but interestingly, almost completely unrealistic. For historically it has proven virtually impossible for a one-term President to be good, or even successful. Continue reading