My Unethical Inauguration Trivia Question

Washington Inaug

Today began with an unethical Presidential trivia question from a friend, who couldn’t even wait for me to get up, and left it with Grace. The question? “What was the warmest Presidential inauguration?” His answer: Gerald Ford, who was sworn in after President Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, and it was 89 degrees. However, the question was misleading (and knowing this guy, deliberately so), especially since it was asked on Inauguration Day, which is what we generally mean when we we refer to a President’s inauguration. Vice-Presidents who take over the job don’t get “inaugurations,” although it is technically correct to call the beginning of anything an inauguration. Have you ever heard or read about Lyndon Johnson’s swearing in on Air Force One on November 22, 1963 as his “inauguration” after President Kennedy was assassinated? Neither have I. He was “sworn in.” A Presidential Inauguration with an upper case “I” always refers to Inauguration DAY, but as my wife pointed out, you can’t tell over the phone whether a word is capitalized.

Millard Fillmore was also sworn into office during a Washington, D.C. summer, on July 10, 1850, after President Taylor expired. I can’t find any reference to the temperature, but it often tops 90 in July here. If we are discussing Inaugurations with a big I, Ronald Reagan gets credit for the warmest modern ceremony at 55 degrees for his first term , and also the modern record for the coldest January D.C. day at 7 degrees when he took his second oath.

My guess this morning, without checking, was that the warmest Inauguration record belongs to George Washington. The first inauguration ceremony was held on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City on April 30, 1789. (It had been delayed from the original March date because such a throng was expected, and more time was needed to prepare.) Accounts say there was sunshine and a temperature of around 60 degrees for that event. (That’s another problem with my annoying friend’s “gotcha!” question: weather stats for the 19th and 18th century are often sketchy.) I think my guess is probably right, too. After George Washington, the inauguration date became March 4th where it stayed until 1937; it was changed to January 20th. If the day falls on a Sunday, the event is moved to the 21st.

Ethics Q & A On Obama’s Speaking Fees

Former President Barack Obama received a $400,000 speaking fee for an appearance at an A&E Network event  yesterday, just as controversy was building over Obama accepting the same fee to appear at a Wall Street firm’s conference.

What’s going on here?

The ex-President is cashing in, that’s what’s going on here. This has become standard operating procedure for former POTUSes, beginning with Gerald Ford, who was showered with criticism by Democrats and the news media for signing with the William Morris agency and picking up what was at the time considered obscene speaking fees from corporations and foreign governments. Ford’s fees are dwarfed by Obama’s, but then Barack is a much better speaker than the late President Ford was. (Almost anyone is.)

Jimmy Carter showed admirable restraint by not devoting his post-Presidency to enriching himself off of his years in office, but Ronald Reagan took some mega-fees to speak abroad. The Clintons, as we know too well, instantly went from rags to riches by selling their celebrity, an exercise that was especially dubious because Hillary was on the rise. Obama’s speaking fees are just one more step along the cashing-in path that both he and Michelle had already begun traveling with the astounding 65 million dollar deal the couple signed to write their biographies.

Some questions and answers on the ethics of Obama’s payday:

1.  Is Obama ‘s acceptance of all this money ethical?

In a vacuum, it’s hard to argue that it isn’t. He set a fee, and someone is willing to pay it. Hillary’s fee was $250,000; if she can get that much for her dry-as-toast delivery as a former Senator, Secretary of State and First Lady, Obama’s a bargain at $400,000. As a private citizen, he has the same right any of us do to sell his books and speeches at whatever the market will bear.

I, for example, get $37.56 for an hour long speech, and am glad to get it..

2. But it isn’t in a vacuum, right?

Right. Obama still has power and influence; he still promises to be a voice in the Democratic party. He’s not exactly a private citizen, and no ex-President is. Taking such a large payment from a Wall Street firm, after all of Obama’s rhetoric (and that of Bernie Sanders, the non-Democrat now being paraded as a leader of the Democratic party) condemning Wall Street has the decided whiff of hypocrisy about it. Not only, that, but as with Hillary Clinton and Bill, the payment of such jaw-dropping amounts for minimal service natural raises questions of pay-offs. Obama’s administration famously sought no criminal sanctions for Wall Street executives despite their  role in what Obama called “driving the economy into a ditch.” How do we know this wasn’t part of an installment payment to Obama for services already rendered, a quid pro quo? We don’t.

It is also hard to make sense out of those fees if they aren’t paying for something more than an hour long speech.

3. So these fees create “the appearance of impropriety?” Continue reading

The Flat Learning Curve Continues: Obama Skips Nancy Reagan’s Funeral. Of Course He Does.

Obama's job learning curve: still flat.

Obama’s job learning curve: still flat.

I wasn’t going to comment on this until two of my many clueless Facebook friends had to mock an indignant article about it on a conservative site. I don’t think Obama skipping Nancy Reagan’s funeral is worthy of outrage, but it is sad. It’s almost as sad as the degree to which the people who elected him have never comprehended what his job is.

Obama is not attending Nancy’s funeral because he was previously committed to attend a vital event called South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival. Michelle Obama will speak at the funeral, but she is also speaking at the festival, making it obvious that the President could also do both if he wanted to. He doesn’t want to, just as he didn’t want to show respect to a sitting Supreme Court Justice who had died suddenly by attending his funeral.

That’s Obama; we should know him by now. He’s a petty, small man, but more important, he doesn’t seize opportunities to repair the poisonous partisan divide that he helped create because he doesn’t understand the symbolic nature of the Presidency, or just doesn’t give a damn. That attitude—I think both are true— has played a major role in creating the non-functioning government and the societal divisions he will leave as his primary legacy. Continue reading

Anti-Trump Sunday Concludes With An Ethics Quote Of The Day: President Ronald Reagan

Portrait Of Ronald Reagan

“Those of us in public life can only resent the use of our names by those who seek political recognition for the repugnant doctrines of hate they espouse. The politics of racial hatred and religious bigotry practiced by the Klan and others have no place in this country, and are destructive of the values for which America has always stood.”

—President Ronald Reagan in 1984, after learning that the KKK had endorsed him.

The contrast between this and the disgraceful, dishonest, weak and waffling response by Donald Trump Sunday when asked about his endorsements from the KKK and David Dukes is stark and illuminating.

__________________

Pointer: Instapundit (Ed Driscoll)

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

Scott Brown And The Slippery Slope To Distrust

Stay classy, Senator...

Stay classy, Senator…

Who started our elected officials down the slippery slope to the point where the public viewed them as indistinguishable from any other celebrity? Was it when  Richard Nixon appeared on “Laugh-In” in 1968? Was it when ex-Speaker Tip O’Neill allowed himself the be shown in a commercial for Quality International Budget Hotels, popping out of a suitcase? Was it a decade earlier, when washed up song and dance man George Murphy won a U.S. Senate seat for California? There were critics who sounded the alarms loud and early about the dangers of our leaders trading on their visibility and power like any pop singer, athlete or actress; such critics were inevitably told to “lighten up.” We assumed, did we not, that our leaders, being responsible and respectful of our institutions,  would know what lines not to cross, and when their self-mockery, playing around and hucksterism would risk harming the credibility of democracy and the public trust.

Why would we assume that, especially as cynical politicians increasingly sought to win the votes of even more cynical young voters?

Ronald Reagan explained to an interviewer that while it would be fun to return to acting—playing a Bond villain, maybe—after leaving the Presidency, it would be unseemly. Is anything unseemly now? Arnold Schwarzenegger stepped out of a Governor’s mansion back into cyborgdom without blinking. Rudy Giuliani appeared in drag on Saturday Night Live while he was still mayor. Senators and House members eagerly grabbed cameos in sitcoms and dramas. Some were even good at it: Senator John Glenn’s guest appearance on “Frazier” is one of the highlights of the whole series. Did any of these eager publicity hounds consider that the more our leaders behaved like every other celebrity, the less reason the public had to believe they were any better, smarter, or more honest than the politically vocal and usually ignorant celebrities who supported them?

A public office is a public trust, and therefore the honor of that office is a gift that the temporary occupant should not trade upon for crass commercial gain and ego fulfillment.  It is bad, and corrupting, enough that the simple fact that they held high office is usually enough to guarantee former officials private sector employment in lobbying firms, universities, law firms and other lucrative enterprises. Still, the institution and positions a former elected leader leaves behind are still deeply affected by the conduct and the reputation of former occupants.

When I first studied Presidential leadership, the consensus among political scientists was that the public perceived the office of the Presidency according to the conduct, reputation, image  and character of George Washington.  Today, thanks to constantly sinking precedents, the public expects lies, excuses incompetence, and shrugs off greed, with the ugly example of the Clintons now reaching depths never envisioned even when Gerald Ford became the star client of the William Morris agency.

Yet somehow I didn’t think it would come to this. I didn’t foresee a former U.S. Senator following the lead of Marie Osmond and Kirstie Alley, and becoming a shill for a diet supplement.  I am so damn naive sometimes. I assumed that an ex-Massachusetts Republican Senator would no more follow that seedy path, no matter how much he needed the money,  then Sarah Palin would pose nude for Playboy. Yet here is Scott Brown, serving as spokesperson for AdvoCare products, which resemble Herbalife in their marketing plan and likely legitimacy.

His acceptance of such an undignified and dubious role harms every U.S. Senator, the institution of the Senate, and the republic itself. It further obliterates all pretense of superior character and respect for the institutions they serve from our politicians, and makes every single one of them appear less worthy of office, respectable or dignified in the eyes of citizens and voters. There are essays all over the web right now asking why slimy Donald Trump is polling so well, given that he is boor, a bully, a clod, a huckster and a self-promoting fool.

Scott Brown and the trend he represents is a big reason. “How is Trump any worse that the rest?” Trumps fans will ask. “At least he doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not.”  Dignity and respect for the privilege of public service have always been vital tools of leadership, and prerequisites for attaining it. This was understood for so long that our leaders forgot why those qualities were important.  Now they have neglected both for their own selfish, short-term gains in money, celebrity and ego-gratification, leaving a distrustful public that can no longer distinguish between statesmen and con artists….perhaps because there is no distinction left.

Comment of the Day: “Confused Ethics Observations On Caitlyn Jenner, Up and Down the Cognitive Dissonance Scale”

"Yikes! Doc says I have to go back to the Seventies and make sure Caitlyn Jenner wins the Ladies Decathlon!"

“Yikes! Doc says I have to go back to 1976 and make sure Jenner wins the Ladies Decathlon!”

It is testimony to the passion, breadth and erudition of the readership here that when I miss an ethics angle to a story, it almost always is raised, and well, by someone else. Here is a wonderful example, johnburger’s ethical objection to the instant, inaccurate and unethical recasting of Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner as female, because Jenner has adopted another gender identity more than 30 years later. I’ll have a brief note in the end,

Here is johnburger’s Comment of the Day on the post, Confused Ethics Observations On Caitlyn Jenner, Up and Down the Cognitive Dissonance Scale: Continue reading

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

Rationalizing Corruption

But remember: the trains ran on time!

But remember: the trains ran on time!

It is a debate that erupts here periodically: Do you vote for the honest and trustworthy politician whose policies you despise, or the lying rogue who stands for all the “right” things? Washington Post editor Hilary Krieger raises the issue with gusto in the Sunday Washington Post, with an essay titled (in the print edition) “Is a little political corruption all that bad?”

Yes, Hilary, it is.

Next question?

But perhaps that’s not sufficient to kill this particular snake, so let’s delve a bit deeper into this truly fatuous, ethically obtuse article. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “It’s Time To Play The Exciting New Broadcast Media Ethics Game…”

pop-gun

Steve-O-in NJ, commenting on the post about President Obama’s weak response to the invasion of the Ukraine by an emboldened Russia. raises the broader ethical point of America’s duty to be militarily strong, one of the persistent areas of disagreement between liberals and conservatives, and one area where the right has it right, and the left is out in left field. It should be noted, however, that this problem is a direct consequence of the even greater one hanging over us: the relentlessly expanding National Debt, and the irresponsible lack of political courage and resolve to do anything about it other than let it get worse. This was most recently demonstrated by what we have learned about the President’s new budget proposal, which raised the ethical question, “Did Obama ever mean what he said about entitlement reform and serious debt reduction?”

Wrote Washington Post editorial chief Fred Hiatt—a liberal Democrat, like virtually all of his colleagues— last week:

It’s a relatively small thing, really, a fix to the calculation of cost-of-living benefits that would have helped save Social Security. But President Obama’s decision to drop the reform from his proposed budget hints at a bigger question: What does he believe in enough to really fight for?

To hear him in 2009, you would have thought that safeguarding Social Security was one such goal. “To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security,” he said. In 2010, he was even more determined: “Now, even after paying for what we spent on my watch, we’ll still face the massive deficit we had when I took office. More importantly, the cost of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will continue to skyrocket. . . . I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans.” Now the winds have shifted — his party wants to woo older voters by promising richer benefits, not reform — and Obama has moved on, too. Someone else will have to fix Social Security.

His turnabout on foreign policy has been even more dizzying. Three years ago, he was promising to support democracy movements throughout the Middle East and protect their advocates from government violence.

Hiatt, whom I generally respect, seems to be uncharacteristically slow on the uptake here. Many of us figured out way back in 2008 that Obama was a politician who would use whatever soaring rhetoric he thought would please the maximum number of voters, and that he had no idea how or whether to make his words reality….and does not yet.  Meanwhile, the Post’s fairest and most astute conservative pundit, Robert Samuelson, explained why Obama’s inaction on entitlements guarantees weakness in the world:

We are spending more and getting less, and — unless present trends are reversed — this will continue for years. It threatens the end of government as we know it.

The cause is no mystery. An aging population and higher health spending automatically increase budget outlays, which induce the president and Congress to curb spending on almost everything else, from defense to food stamps. Over the next decade, all the government’s projected program growth stems from Social Security and health care, including the Affordable Care Act. By 2024, everything else will represent only 7.4 percent of national income (gross domestic product), the lowest share since at least 1940, says Douglas Elmendorf, head of the Congressional Budget Office.

This is the central budget story, and it’s largely missed — or ignored — by political leaders, the media, political scientists and the public. The welfare state is taking over government. It’s strangling government’s ability to respond to other national problems and priorities, because the constituencies for welfare benefits, led by Social Security’s 57 million, are more numerous and powerful than their competitors for federal support. Politicians of both parties are loath to challenge these large, expectant and generally sympathetic groups.

With this as the depressing backdrop, here is Steve O’s excellent Comment of the Day on the post, It’s Time To Play The Exciting New Broadcast Media Ethics Game, “Biased, Lazy, or Incompetent!”: Continue reading