Ethics And Civility 101: Rep. Joe (“You Lie!”) Wilson Has NOT Been Vindicated

Shut up, Joe.

Shut up, Joe.

Sometimes really incompetent and corrupting ethical verdicts run through the media and the culture like a bad flu, sickening our values and weakening our comprehension of what “good” is. These come with equal frequency from the Right and the Left—right now, they are flying in from both directions, which means that the United States is likely to get even sicker that it already is from an ethical perspective, and it is perilously ill already. From the Left, we have choruses proclaiming that the President apologized for lying to the public about how the Affordable Care Act would work, when he did nothing of the sort by any reasonable and honest analysis based on what an apology is. (I’ll discuss that in an upcoming post.)

From the Right, we are now hearing that because it is past denying that the President in fact did lie about Obamacare, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) is owed an apology (as long as he gets as much of an apology as the faux example the President offered on Wednesday, I might not object too much) for the criticism he received after shouting out “You lie!”  as President Obama was giving his 2009 address touting his health care legislation to Congress.  Wilson is not owed any apology, nor has he been “vindicated,” as thousands of commenters on websites and bloggers have been claiming for weeks. Continue reading

The Maine Incivility Project

Thank goodness for the Maine Incivility Project.

With all the talk about incivility sparked by the media’s determination to blame a madman’s shooting rampage on Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and the Tea Party, it rapidly became evident that civility is a somewhat elusive concept. For example, while shouting “You lie!” at the President while he is speaking is definitely uncivil, arguing that the President was really foreign born isn’t—it’s stupid, but not uncivil. Calling Rush Limbaugh “a Big, Fat, Idiot” in the title of your book, as Sen. Al Franken did, is uncivil, as is calling Nancy Pelosi “the Wicked Witch of the West,” as Rush Limbaugh did. Using cross-hairs to designate Democratic House seats that Republicans are “gunning for'”, “targeting” or “taking aim at”, on the other hand, is not uncivil…just unsettling if one is metaphor-challenged or hoplophobic (having a pathological fear of guns.)

Never fear, however. Before the echoes  of President Obama’s call for Americans to come together had barely faded, the public got a handy lesson from the Governor of Maine about what incivility sounds like, as his term launches the new Maine Incivility Project. Continue reading

A Vote for Keith Halloran Is A Vote For Hateful Politics

It is one thing for a comedian like Wanda Sykes to publicly wish that Rush Limbaugh’s kidneys fail (that one thing, by the way, is gratuitous nastiness without humor), and quite another for a candidate for Congress, Democrat Keith Halloran of New Hampshire, to send out a tweet to his Twitter followers expressing regret that Sarah Palin and Levi Johnston were not on board the doomed plane that crashed, killing former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. Continue reading

John Avlon’s “Ten Congressmen Who Should Be Fired”: Too Short, By Far

John Avlon, a senior political correspondent at The Daily Beast and author of  the book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America, has posted his list of “Ten Congressmen Who Should Be Fired.” Though Avlon’s definition of “wingnut” is too often “conservative,” and picking the ten most embarrassing members of Congress is like choosing the ten most offensive reality TV stars, it’s a reasonably good list, if far too short and only the beginning. The members on it seem to split into four main categories: outrageously uncivil, clearly incompetent, corrupt, and too outspokenly conservative for Avlon, who regards all Tea Party sympathizers, for example, as dangerous “wingnuts.”

Here’s the list, with highlights of Avlon’s reasons: Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: North Carolina Rep. Bob Etheridge

This video is remarkable and disturbing.

Rep. Bob Etheridge, (D-N.C.) was walking down a Washington street when he was approached by a student holding a cell phone camera. The young man asked the Congressman about his views on President Obama’s agenda. Etheridge angrily demanded to know who the student was, tried to snatch the phone, and then assaulted and battered him. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: South Carolina Democrats, Voters and News Media

Mystery man Alvin Greene upset a respectable, accomplished and well-known opponent in the Democratic primary that decided who would try to unseat South Carolina G.O.P. Senator Jim DeMint in November. Even before the vote, it was widely reported that Greene was unemployed, with no political experience. After the vote and the stunning results, it came to light that in 2009, the victorious Democratic Senatorial nominee asked a young college girl to look at some pornography he had downloaded, leading to an obscenity charge that is still pending. Embarrassed, chagrined and confused by the fact that their standard-bearer appears to be a goof or worse, Democrats are accusing everyone in sight, especially Greene and Republicans, convinced that there must have been a plot, a scam, anything to explain what happened without focusing blame where it belongs: on the Democratic candidates who couldn’t defeat Greene, and the South Carolina voters who elected him. Continue reading


There is apparently is little that a politician can do today that is so uncivil, embarrassing or undignified that partisans won’t cheer it, and that fundraisers and marketers unencumbered by things such as values, responsibility, and shame won’t try to use to raise money. Call the President a liar during his State of the Union Address? Fundraising gold!  Shout “Baby killer!” on the floor of the House? Great!! Use it to get those checks flowing!

Now, not to be outdone by the shameless venality of the GOP, Democrats are using Joe Biden’s resort to gutter-speech, to the President, during a formal ceremony, on national television, as part of a new fundraising pitch.  CNN reports that Democrat donors who give at least $25 to the cause will receive “a limited edition ‘Health Reform is a BFD’ T-shirt in a super-soft, fine jersey (men’s) or baby rib (women’s) cotton fabric,” according to a new fundraising page posted on the website of Organizing For America, the White House political group housed in the National Democratic Committee. Continue reading

State of the Union Ethics Alarms

President Obama’s State of the Union message didn’t quite set off accusations of mendacity on the scale of President Bush’s yellow cake uranium comment in 2003, and Rep. Joe Wilson didn’t yell out “You lie!” (thanks for that, Joe), but the President did make some assertions that, if not intentionally inaccurate, were recklessly misleading. The most striking one was contained in the President’s attack on the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission He said:

“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”

This prompted Justice Joseph Alito, sitting with his colleagues, to say quietly, to himself or to Justice Sotomayor who was next to him, “Not true, not true.” And he was right: much of the statement wasn’t accurate. (Was Alito’s mouthed protest any sort of civility breach? No. Obama couldn’t see it; it is possible nobody heard it at all. Justice Alito was not mouthing the words for lip-readers in the television audience. No ethics foul. However, Alito may want to practice his poker face in the future.  Next time, he won’t be so surprised: for a President to directly criticize the Supreme Court in his address is almost as rare as a Congressman shouting “You lie!”) Continue reading