Observations On The CNN Republican Candidates Debate

Is it the debate, or the Burger king Commercial?

Is it the debate, or the Burger king Commercial?

1. Whoever decided that presidential candidates debates require  patriotic songs to start them off should be shunned and mocked. This simultaneously over-sanctifies the event and trivializes it. This is a serious enterprise, but not that far removed from a an interview on “Meet the Press,” and it’s also not a variety show.

2. With Wolf Blitzer’s competent, respectful, fair and benign debate moderation last night,  media and liberal pundit defenders of the disgraceful CNBC inquisition should admit they were defending the indefensible.

3. Ted Cruz had a terrible night, meaning his arrogance,  cynicism and dishonesty were exposed and nobody trapped him into it. His talking over the moderators after they repeatedly told him to pipe down was outrageous. His long, evasive non-answer to the question about why he refused to level the same criticism of Trump in public forums that he has made in private appearances was like a parody of a double-talking pol. Cruz’s plan, it’s obvious to see, is to avoid alienating Trump’s base so he can snap it up when The Donald finally starts imitating Michael Richards in his career-ending stand-up meltdown or does something similarly self-destructive. At this point, that plan appears irresponsible and cowardly. Cruz is the best qualified candidate to take Trump apart, because he has the rhetorical tools and requisite ruthlessness to do the job right. That means that he has an ethical obligation, not just as a Republican but also as a citizen, to remove this ugly blight from  the political scene before he does more damage. Yet he refuses to do it.

There has been a lot of talk about what disqualifies a candidate to be President. Cruz’s refusal to take on Trump when he knows how wrong and dangerous he is disqualifies him. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Wolf Blitzer

Watch out, Newt! It's SUPER-WOLF!!!

Once again Ethics Alarms finds itself in the sad position of calling conduct heroic that should be routine. Unfortunately, however, competent and responsible broadcast journalism isn’t routine, and if I was looking for a bold and quick-witted journalist to exceed the standard practice, it certainly wouldn’t be CNN’s plodding, timid and often befuddled Wolf Blitzer. Last night, however, as moderator of the latest GOP candidates debate, he did what few journalists ever have the confidence or courage to do: he challenged a politician on an absurd and hypocritical statement.

And yes, I confess…if Wolf fell slightly short of true Ethics Hero status by a couple of points, the fact that the politician involved was New Gingrich the Unethical put him over the top. If that be bias, so be it. Continue reading

Republican Nomination Ethics Points, 1/18/2012

I’m sitting here watching the GOP Final Four debate. Here are some brief ethics observation on a lively day in the race:

  • At the opening gun, Newt Gingrich gave a bravura performance of indignation personified when moderator John King asked him about the looming ABC interview of his ex-wife, Marianne, in which she impugns Newt’s character and claims that he asked her to agree to an “open marriage.” He told King it was a despicable question and said that the issue was not worthy of mention. Good act, but of course the question of character is relevant, and of course Gingrich, who has none, wouldn’t think so. Continue reading

So Who Do We Trust To Fight Crony Capitalism?

Shut out of the last Iowa debate because of low poll numbers, earnest, honest, ethical, reasonable, intelligent and boring candidate Jon Huntsman gave his assessment of the event to ABC’s Christiane Amanpour, saying that the main issue facing the country was a trust deficit:

“The most important issue of all was not even touched upon and that is the deficit of trust we have in the United States, in fact it may have played right into the trust deficit. That is, nobody trusts Congress anymore. We need term limits in Congress, we need to close the revolving door that allows members of Congress to move right on into the lobbying profession. No one has trust anymore towards the executive branch, no one trusts Wall Street with the banks that are too big to fail. So I would argue that the issues that are most salient in our political dialogue today were not even touched upon last night…”

Huntsman is right. It was especially astounding that this issue wasn’t addressed in the debate (and that those crack moderators Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos  didn’t mention it) after more than a month of Occupy Everywhere protests that sorta-kinda dealt with the trust issue (oh,  what a little focus could have wrought!)  and the recent “60 Minutes”  expose on insider trading by members of Congress. Also preceding the debate was this trust-buster: in July of 2008, Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson held a meeting with select Wall Street fund managers and gave them advance notice of government action that they could use to make significant profits: Continue reading

Trump Follies Integrity Test: The Grades Are In!

Today Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann  declined the invitation to participate in the NewsMax debate, moderated by Donald Trump. All the GOP Presidential contenders have now responded to the opportunity accept some television exposure in exchange for playing pawns in Donald Trump’s tawdry manipulation of the media, public attention and the political process for personal promotion purposes.

The Ethics Alarms grades are in for this integrity test,  based on rapidity in assessing the revolting nature of the exercise, clarity in condemning it, and personal integrity demonstrated by the handling of the whole embarrassing stunt.

Here they are:

AJon Huntsman and Ron Paul get the highest grades for declining quickly and for the right stated reason—Trump.

C+: Mitt Romney was the third to  decline, but also told Trump it was for scheduling reasons, losing points for weasel words, or, in the alternative, really not objecting to The Donald. As usual, who knows what Romney really believes?

D : Perry and Bachmann, for waiting until they knew who else was debating. Perry used the same excuse as Romney, and Bachmann declined “respectfully.” That loses points: Trump doesn’t deserve any respect.

D-: Rick Santorum. OK, he should flunk, but he’s desperate, and only a debate with nobody else at it would give him a chance to stand out. He couldn’t resist temptation. I sympathize.

F: Newt. He has no excuses. Or integrity.

Brain Freeze Ethics and Rick Perry

In a moment of awkwardness that is sure to get as much attention and YouTube views as the donkey bray that knocked Howard Dean out of the 2004 presidential race, Gov. Rick Perry insisted in last night’s GOP candidates debate that it was crucial to eliminate three government agencies (he meant “departments”) and couldn’t come up with the third. “Oops,’ he said sheepishly, after he had done a credible impression of Monty Python’s “Spanish Inquisition,” which could never quite recall all of their “methods.”

Perry’s brain freeze isn’t likely to improve his standing, though anyone inclined to be fair should be wary of declaring a sudden attack of aphasia conclusive proof that Perry is unqualified to be president: just try re-capturing that elusive word or name on the tip of your tongue when you are in front of an audience, not to mention national television. It has happened to me more than once, and I suspect that anyone who does much public speaking or performing watched Perry’s crash last night with instant horrible memories of similar experiences best forgotten.

But this morning on CNN, Perry’s response to a question about his flub did disqualify him for national office. He was obviously appearing on the morning news show for damage control, and planned what his response would be to the inevitable question. And what was Perry’s plan?

Duck responsibility, and blame everyone else.

“Well, I wasn’t getting any help from either side…” were the first words out of the Governor’s mouth. Continue reading

Most Troubling Comment During The GOP Debate: Mitt Romney

The runner-up in this category, as I have come to expect, was Michelle Bachmann’s…

“The president, he put us in Libya. He is now putting us in Africa.”

If any other candidate, or President Obama, had said this, no one would blink: an innocent misstatement, obviously. With Bachmann, however, and her record of historical and factual howlers, one has to pause. Does the Congresswoman really not know that Libya is in Africa? After all, a large portion of Americans don’t. It is not unfair to judge Bachmann’s comment in the context of our general impression of her knowledge and precision of expression, but avoiding confirmation bias is almost impossible. If you think Bachmann’s a dolt, then the gaffe is just more proof. If you admire and respect her, you ignore the mistake (we know what she means, after all) and the criticism confirms that everyone is predisposed to be unfair to your candidate. I will say this: Bachmann is at fault for eroding her credibility to the point that a statement like this raises any doubts at all. I am inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, but the doubt is there, nonetheless.

The winning entry in the debate, revealing a disturbing ethical orientation in a spontaneous remark, was Mitt Romney’s comment in the midst of objecting to Gov. Perry’s allegation about Romney’s hypocrisy in criticizing Perry’s record on illegal immigration after employing illegals himself: Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Rep. Michele Bachmann…Again

Bachmann doesn't kid about this.

“When you take the 9-9-9 plan and you turn it upside-down, the Devil’s in the details.”

—-Rep. Michele Bachmann, concluding her critique of rival Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” tax plan during the Bloomberg GOP presidential candidates’ debate.

Throughout her campaign, as she has throughout her political career, Rep. Michele Bachmann has been sending coded messages to her Evangelical Christian base, usually through Bible references that most Americans don’t recognize. But most of us have seen “The Omen.” When an Evangelical like Bachmann suggests, with a big smile of course, that a black Presidential rival named Cain is pushing a plan that becomes the Mark of the Beast when turned upside-down, she’s not joking….indeed, I have never seen any evidence that Michele Bachmann is capable of joking. Continue reading

The Cowardly GOP Presidential Field

Cowards. All of them.

In three consecutive Republican presidential debates, members of the partisan audience have displayed obnoxious and callous attitudes in response to questions directed to the candidates. In the first, a portion of the assembled conservatives cheered an accounting of the convicted murderers put to death by the Texas penal system. During the second, vocal members of the audience shouted “Yeah!” to Wolf Blitzer’s questioning whether uninsured Americans should just be allowed to die without medical care. Then, in this week’s debate, the crowd jeered a videotaped soldier who declared himself as gay before asking if the candidates would support the recent elimination of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” as military policy.

Pundit efforts to characterize these outburst as typical of the Republican, conservative or Tea Party constituencies are blatant stereotyping, cynical and unfair. Anyone who has any experience speaking or performing to an audience knows that a few people can dominate audience reaction without being representative of it. No, it is not the Republican constituency that was exposed by these incidents, but the contenders for that party’s and the nation’s leadership. The failure of any one of the assembled candidates, nine in the first two debates, ten this week, to clearly and emphatically condemn the offensive reactions and the “thinking” underlying them suggests that none of the candidates possess the integrity, courage, confidence and values required to be a trustworthy leader of the United States. Continue reading