Rep. Cawthorne And The Cross-Dressing Future Congressman Principle Question

Yes, this is a funny controversy, but not entirely trivial. And you knew Ethics Alarms would be on it like hound on a hock of ham, because examining the Naked Teacher Principle [NTP]and its real or proposed extensions, sisters, cousins and aunts, have been a periodic obsession of both Ethics Alarms and its predecessor, The Ethics Scoreboard. Add to that the fact that that Madison Cawthorn (R-NC.), is both a Christian values-spouting politician and a mega-jerk, and the photo above, showing him cavorting in lingerie, cannot be ignored (or, once seen, unseen).

The Principle states that a secondary school teacher or administrator (or other role model for children) who allows pictures of himself or herself to be widely publicized, as on the web, showing the teacher naked or engaging in sexually provocative poses, cannot complain when he or she is dismissed by the school as a result.

It is important to remember that even the Naked Teacher Principle does not hold that teachers necessarily should be dismissed if old photos surface of them online that show more of them than parents and schools want students to see, but that it is their own carelessness that created their career crisis, and that the decision to dismiss them is ethically defensible. Most recent posts on the topic involve whether the NTP can be applied to other professions.The last time it was discussed, in 2012, involved a nurse who made money on the side by posing provocatively on a sexually themed website. The conclusion here was was that there was no “Naked Nurse Principle,” and that her firing was unjust.  The previous NTP-related post involved, almost a year before that one,  rebutting the argument that there are similar principles regarding police and firefighters. Some of the more interesting versions that have been explored on Ethics Alarms include The Female Bodybuilder Firefighter Principle, The Drag Queen Principal Principle, The Online Porn Star Teacher Principle, Naked Naval War College Professor Principle, and more.

So now we must ask, “Is there a Cross-Dressing Future Congressman Principle”? Continue reading

Is There A “Naked State Legislator Principle”? [Updated]

I guess we may find out.

In a profile of Virginia’s new House of Delegates member Lee Carter, one of the Ocasio-Cortez school socialists that snuck into the Virginia’s House under the Democratic Party banner, the New York Times quotes him as tweeting this as part of his (smart) efforts to get all of his dirty career and personal laundry out and in public before the next election:

“Just like everyone else under 35, I’m sure explicit images or video of me exists out there somewhere. That’s just a reality of dating in the smartphone era.”

I could concentrate on the statement itself, which does not bode well for Carter’s ethical decision-making in the future. It is, after all, an appeal to the biggest rationalization of them  all, #1 on the list, “Everybody does it,” as he is suggesting that if “everyone else” exposes their naughty bits inline, it’s a responsible thing to do. Carter also evokes #41 (I HATE #41),  The Evasive Tautology, or “It is what it is” as well as 1A, Ethics Surrender, or “We can’t stop it,” claiming that there is no choice other than to go full-Weiner to court the opposite sex.  In fact, there are other choices, like being modest and responsible, and not sending your crotch into cyber-space where it can get into all sorts of mischief.

While we are here, I also have to ask what “explicit images or video” means. Explicit how? Is Carter really saying that it doesn’t matter whether an explicit video shows him flexing in the mirror of going full Louis C.K.?

The statement itself suggest to me that Carter is neither especially ethical, trustworthy or bright, but then I don’t consider socialists ethical, trustworthy or bright. They want to constrain personal liberty and autonomy, and advocate increased government  incursions on our freedom based on their presumed superior priorities and values. They also are either unaware of how routinely socialism has failed, or dishonestly choose to pretend otherwise.

But I digress. The issue at hand is whether in this “smartphone era” an elected official should be able to maintain that his (or her) explicit photos or videos in no way reflect on fitness to serve. 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.

Why Yes, Krystal, There IS A “Candidate For Congress Who Is Photographed Sucking The Phallic Red Nose Worn By Her Reindeer Attired Husband At A Christmas Party Principle,” And It Isn’t A Double Standard At All, As You Will Learn As Soon As There IsA Male Congressional Candidate Photographed Doing the Same Thing. Now Shut Up, Please.

Krystal-Ball

I’m sorry, I can resist this.

In 2010, Krystal Ball was a 28-year old, almost credential and experience free Democratic Party nominee for United States Congress in Virginia’s 1st congressional district in the 2010 election. She lost to Republican incumbent Rob Wittman. During the campaign, old photographs surfaced of Ball and her then-husband at a college Christmas party, showing her dressed as “bad Santa,” leading her husband, dressed as a reindeer, around S and M style by a leash, and sucking on his long, fake, phallic red nose.  Like this:

Krystal Ball 5Krystal Ball 1

(By the way, I had mentioned this episode very briefly in 2010, and promptly forgot about. Ball is the one, as we say in the law, who “opened the door” again.)

Although she lost by a 2-1 margin, Ball made the rounds of various TV talk shows exploiting the salacious aspects of the photos (for this is what the programs were interested in) and playing the victim, arguing that the photos were used against her because she was a woman. The exposure, combined with the fact that she is physically attractive—this sexist standard doesn’t bother her, oddly— launched her current career as a pretty talking head, if not an especially enlightening one. (Naturally, she roams on MSNBC.)

Krystal was on Fox News yesterday whining yet again about her 2010 defeat and blaming it on the photos and a “double standard.” “I think that we should look at the example of Scott Brown,” she told a sympathetic Megyn Kelly. “He had pictures from the same age as those pictures of me, only he was completely naked, in the centerfold of a national magazine, and it was not even a bump in his campaign; in fact he has even said that it helped him a little bit in his campaign. And I’m not holding anything against Senator Scott Brown… that’s as it should be, in my view, because those kinds of things to me are not relevant to the campaign trail. And I do think there’s a double standard.”

Baloney. Continue reading

The Part of Legal Ethics The Public Will Never, Ever Understand

Sen. Brown has the pulse of the public on this issue, and like the public, he’s ignorant.

Especially since politicians like Scott Brown keep making sure that they misunderstand.

In this week’s Massachusetts Senate debate between Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, Brown slammed the anti-corporate crusader, the self-styled intellectual catalyst for the Occupy Movement, for accepting $250,000 from the Travelers insurance company to help the company deny claims for asbestos poisoning. He said:

“You chose to side with one of the biggest corporations in the United States: Travelers Insurance. When you worked to prohibit people who got asbestos poisoning, and I hope all the asbestos union workers are watching right now. She denied, she helped Travelers deny those benefits for asbestos poisoning, made over $250,000 in an effort to protect big corporations….”

Brown is accurately stating the way most people look at lawyers and what they do. But he is absolutely mistaken. His characterization of what Warren did is incorrect, and his inference of hypocrisy is unfair.  It is all the worse because he is a lawyer himself. If Senator Brown, as a lawyer, doesn’t understand what’s wrong with his accusation, he should. If he does know, then he is undercutting his own profession for political gain. [NOTE: The original version of the post incorrectly stated that Brown was not a lawyer. My thanks to Mass lawyer James Flood III for flagging the error.] Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Elizabeth Warren’s Native American Ancestry

Remember that old Cher song, “1/32 Breed”?

If Scott Brown wins re-election as a Republican Senator from Massachusetts this fall, he will go on record as one of the luckiest political candidates since, well, Barack Obama. Brown won an upset victory in the special election in 2009 (any time a Republican wins in my home state, it’s an upset) in part because his inept Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley, showed herself to be unforgivably ignorant on the one topic most state residents really care about—the Boston Red Sox. Now he has the latest contender for his job, Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, on the ropes because of her own self-inflicted wound, Warren’s dubious claim of minority status as a Native American between 1986 and 1995.

Warren listed herself as part Native American in the Association of American Law Schools desk book, she says, in the hope of meeting others in her field with similar backgrounds. She did not, she insists, do so to gain any professional edge. Yet in 1992 she was hired to teach at Harvard, and when she became a permanent faculty member in 1995, Warren dropped the minority claim from her profile in the directory. Harvard, meanwhile, began counting Warren as a Native American in its diversity statistics, just as her previous employers had at the University of Texas and the University of Pennsylvania. Whatever her intent may have been, a former chair of the AALS confirms that minority listings in the organization’s directory were used in hiring decisions by members.“In the old days before the internet, you’d pull out the AALS directory and look up people. There are schools that if they were looking for a minority faculty member, would go to that list and might say, ‘I didn’t know Elizabeth Warren was a minority, ” George Mason University Law professor David Bernstein, a former chairman of the American Association of Law Schools, has told reporters. Continue reading

Ethics Alarms: the News, the Web, and Other Things

Why People Think the Media is Biased, Reason 61,567: Chris Matthews recently mocked new Mass. GOP Senator Scott Brown for signing a book deal to write his autobiography. “Didn’t people used to write their memoirs after their careers?” Matthews sneered. Gee, Chris, I don’t know: Weren’t you extravagant in your praise for Sen. Barack Obama’s autobiography, published before he was half-way through his first term?

How Writers Are Different From Lawyers: A free-lance writer lays out her ethical principles here, which includes not lending her talents to causes she doesn’t believe in. She is on firm ground, because citizens don’t have a Constitutional right to have their ideas professionally communicated to the world. Citizens do and must have the right to use the laws of their country for their own benefit, however, and to have the best representation possible when they are accused of crimes. That is why we can make judgments about a writer’s principles based on her choice of clients, but to do the same with lawyers is an attack on the principles of democracy. Continue reading

Gawker Asks: “Why Were the Democrats So Ethical?”

One could hardly find a more illuminating window into the unethical political and media culture festering in this country than to read today’s “scoop” on (yecch!) Gawker, the celebrity-stalking, rumor-mongering website that makes TMZ look like The Economist.  Its breathless lead:

“Did you know that Scott Brown—the new star Republican Senator—was accused of harassing a female campaign worker in 1998? We have the documents to prove it. Did the Democrats blow an opportunity to keep their 60th Senate seat?Continue reading

Martha Coakley, Bloody Socks and Democracy

If Republican Scott Brown, the former Cosmo fold-out,  defeats Martha Coakley, the designated 60th Senate vote for Obamacare,  in the special election in Massachusetts to fill Ted Kennedy’s long-time seat, there will undoubtedly be a flurry of columns about how she was beaten, in the end, by irrelevant, trivial gaffes that only prove how silly and provincial Massachusetts voters can be. In particular, the state’s voters will be ridiculed for rejecting Coakley after she airily dismissed Boston Red Sox legend Curt Schilling as “a Yankee fan.” O.K., so she doesn’t follow the Red Sox. Big deal. You want to choose a senator on stuff like that? Continue reading