Boehner, Leadership And The Consequentialism Exception

At the end of John Beohner’s press conference responding to his sudden resignation, there was this exchange:

QUESTION: Can you talk about what you think your legacy is as you’re leaving? What are your most important accomplishments, and what are you going to do on November 1st? Are you moving to Florida?

BOEHNER: I was never in the legacy business. You all heard me say it, I’m a regular guy with a big job. And I never thought I’d be in Congress much less I’d ever be speaker. But people know me as being fair, being honest, being straightforward and trying to do the right thing every day on behalf of the country. I don’t need any more on that.

I will frequently inveigh here against the fallacy of consequentialism, the mistake of believing that whether conduct is ethical or not can be judged by its results. This leads inexorably to an “ends justifies the means” orientation and a misunderstanding of ethics. The ethical nature of an act can only be weighed according to how it was arrived at, its intent, and whether the conduct itself meets the tests of one or more ethical systems. Then moral luck takes over: an ethical decision can have catastrophic consequences and still be ethical, and the most unethical conduct can have wonderful results.

In life, however, and especially in some fields, ethics isn’t enough, and we all know it, or should. This is why consequentialism can’t be snuffed out of our thinking. There are fields of endeavor in which results are the primary standard by which we can—and should— judge whether someone was competent in the role he or she took on for themselves when others could have done the job better. In these fields being ethical isn’t enough, and often is grossly inadequate.  If one is a leader, for example, it cannot be right to lead those behind you to disaster, indeed to fail. In a field that is defined by the successful completion of a task that affects others, failure and ethics are incompatible. A failed leader is a bad leader. The objective in leadership is not just to “do the right thing,” but to succeed at ethical objectives in the right way. Continue reading

Brief Notes:’s Contractor, Netanyahu, and Charles Blow


I am drowning in important ethics topics and short of time, so I’m reluctantly employing the rarely-used (here) flotation device of briefly noting three stories that would normally warrant full posts. I’ll reserve the right to change my mind and fully explore one or more of them later.

1. Wait: who’s the journalist here?

Six days after Ethics Alarms noted the ridiculous fact that the IRS has hired—for about 5 million dollars of taxpayer money— the same group of incompetents who botched their 800 million dollar job of getting up and running, the Washington Post ran the story (on page 18). The new contract itself dates from August: I regard my nausea over it as late, but I regard the Post’s failure to report the story until now a) suspicious, b) incompetent and c) indefensible.

2. Netanyahu lobbies Congress Continue reading

Sen. Gillibrand’s State of the Union Guest

Emma and her mattress: actually, many of the other attendees at the State of the Union would have loved to have had a mattress...

Emma and her mattress: actually, many of the other attendees at the State of the Union would have loved to have had a mattress…

I was considering framing this as an either/or ethics quiz, with Sen. Gillibrand (D-NY) inviting Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia student who continues to harass the student she accused of rape despite her allegations being judged, by the school and police, as unprovable to the State of the Union, being compared to Speaker John Boehner’s in-your-face invitation of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress about Iran. I don’t like either of the moves: both are unethical in different ways. I can at least devise an argument for Boehner, however. I don’t see how anyone can excuse Gillibrand, who is essentially accusing a young man of rape when she has no direct knowledge of what happened.

Columbia student Paul Nungesser was found “not responsible” for sexually assaulting Sulkowicz, Since that official determination, Sulkowicz has been carrying a mattress around the university as “an art project” to protest Nungesser’s success at defending himself. When he learned that the Senator had injected herself into the controversy, he told reporters,

“I am shocked to learn that Senator Gillibrand is actively supporting Ms. Sulkowicz’s defamation campaign against me by providing her with a public forum in which to broadcast her grave allegation. By doing so, Senator Gillibrand is participating in a harassment campaign against someone who, for good reason, has been found innocent by all investigating bodies.”

Yup, I’d say that’s a fair interpretation. He continued,

“Sulkowicz’s accusation is untrue and unfounded: I have never sexually assaulted anyone. This is why Columbia University after seven months of detailed investigation in November 2013 found me to be not responsible…I voluntarily let myself be interviewed by DA chief of Sex Crimes at SVU in New York City, in August 2014. Shortly after this interview, the DA’s office informed me that they decided not to pursue the case further.”

Sulkowicz  decided not to pursue the criminal case any further. She just took the alternative action of setting out to hound, harass, accuse, stigmatize and embarrass Nungesser as “art.” Continue reading

Chinese Food Ethics, Mexican Food Ethics

Chinese Food

In a dilemma reminiscent of my ice cream sundae problem last year, I faced the question of how to ethically respond to yet another food service botch. We ordered a modest dinner from the local Chinese carry-out establishment, and after we got the order home, discovered that it was missing an appetizer. It was raining hard, and when I called the restaurant, they agreed, after putting me through the third degree, that they had screwed up. They said they would deliver it. I was prepared to drive over and pick it up, but at least this allowed us to begin eating the rest of the dinner before it got cold. It took about a half an hour, but my precious pan-fried pork dumplings finally arrived, along with profuse apologizes from the deliverer.

The ethics issue: Should I tip him or not? Continue reading

Hell Freezes Over! Bill Clinton Passes The Obamacare Integrity And Trustworthiness Litmus Test…Or Does He?

Bill Clinton

This is almost too much for my mind to handle, and any moment I might just have a cerebral meltdown, like those computers Captain Kirk used to destroy on “Star Trek” by feeding them paradoxes. Bill Clinton appears to have passed the integrity test.

There must be something in it for him.

Clinton, of all people, told an interviewer that President Obama should honor his oft-repeated pledge and allow people to hang on to health care plans that are being canceled as a result of the Affordable Care Act:

“I personally believe, even if it takes a change in the law, that the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they’ve got.” Continue reading

Ethics Mega-Dunces: The Republicans

"You're right, Abe; they're all rock-heads. I'd like to beat some sense into them with a big stick, but I have no arms."

“You’re right, Abe; they’re all rock-heads. I’d like to beat some sense into them with a big stick, but I have no arms.”

Not a single invited member of the Republican leadership accepted an invitation to attend the official March on Washington anniversary event yesterday.

This is practically all that needs to be said. That fact alone is sufficient to show an appalling lack of leadership, respect, common sense, common purpose, values and priorities within the highest reaches of the party.

Everyone had a “good reason,” of course—Boehner, Canter, McConnell, McCain, Romney, both Bushes,  But the excuses don’t matter. A responsible, intelligent, public minded, fair and  statesmanlike political organization would have made certain that a representative delegation attended, and prominently so. How or why no major Republican figures were present is irrelevant. If the commemoration of the March on Washington, Dr. King’s iconic and transformative speech, and the cultural transformation of America that they helped achieve are as important to the party as they must be--because of the GOP’s origins, because of what it represents, and because, dammit, Republicans are Americans, then attendance was mandatory. They manage to make it to the State of the Union and Presidential inaugurations, because they recognize it as important to do so. They should be able to recognize that showing solidarity with the  Democrats, African-Americans and the public on the core principle of equal rights for all is even more important. Continue reading

“There Is No Debt Crisis” ? Boy, That’s A Load Off My Mind!

"So far, so good!"

“So far, so good!”

The confluence of head-exploding statements and news keeps coming, with the worst being the recent unconscionable announcements out of the mouths of the President and some of his political adversaries that “there is no debt crisis.”

This is exactly like the old joke about the man falling from a 40 story window, being asked by someone on the tenth floor, shouting through a window as he passes, “How are you doing?” “So far, so good!” he answers. Yet these ridiculous, idiotic or intentionally dishonest statements by President Obama, Speaker Boehner, and others are being cited by the news media as reassuring! No, there’s no debt crisis, if you regard that falling optimist as not being in a smashing-to-pulp-on-the-sidewalk-crisis. The debt increased by a trillion dollars last year, and looks as if it will increase by close to a trillion more by October, 2013. The government has no leadership on the issue, and the various sides appear incapable of forging a solution, with the current Administration actually going out of its way to try to make less than 2% in budget cuts under the absurd sequester hurt as much as possible, to convince a math-deficient public that cutting the size of government is not only impossible but undesirable. This scenario doesn’t demonstrate that there’s a debt crisis? Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: House Speaker John Boehner

“Go fuck yourself!”

House Speaker John Boehner to a surprised Senator Harry Reid last week at the White House, apparently in response to Reid’s comments to reporters that Boehner was “a dictator.”

If Boehner is going to talk like that, we might as well have Ron Burgundy as Speaker. At least he's funny.

If Boehner is going to talk like that, we might as well have Ron Burgundy as Speaker. At least he’s funny.

Stay classy, Mr. Speaker.

Admittedly, there are few individuals on Capitol Hill more deserving of such a rebuke than Sen. Reid, but Speaker Boehner is obligated not to be the agent delivering it. Such personal incivility is inexcusable no matter how insulted Boehner felt, and no matter how high tensions were running during the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. Americans should expect their elected officials to conduct themselves with the dignity, honor and civility their positions demand. When they stoop to vulgarity and pure invective, they not only disgrace themselves, but also shame their high offices, the institutions in which they serve, and the nation. Continue reading

PolitiFact Bias: the Smoking Gun

I could not resist this one. Colleague Bob Stone, better known as “Ethics Bob,” has jousted with me over the Tampa Bay Times’ “fact check” web page, PolitiFact. Though far from the worst of the newspaper fact check features, PolitiFact is routinely biased leftward, and sometimes worse than biased. Bob, and some other worthy visitors here, rise to PolitiFact’s defense whenever I smite it, though it deseves to be smought, or smitten, or whatever. Here is a ringing example of why Politifact drives me crazy, and a ridiculous display of biased reporting.

You may recall that  when she was House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi used military aircraft to travel to and from her home district in California, costing taxpayers millions of  dollars. This became a Tea Party rallying cry (as well it should have), and was taken as symbolic of the profligate Democratic Congress. John Boehner, the current Speaker, pledged during the 2010 campaign that if he took over, he would fly commercial. He reiterated the pledge after 2010’s red tide gave him the gavel. Continue reading

The Obama Speech Flap: Case Study in Liberal Media Bias Attempted and Abandoned

This time even the Washington Post couldn't hide it.

Why does the mainstream media continue to do this? Why does it try to make fair analysis look like right wing bias by refusing to admit the obvious?

I am genuinely perplexed.

I wrote about the President’s petty and inept effort to upstage the GOP presidential debates earlier than most. concluding that 1) it was intentional, 2) it showed, as usual, awful leadership instincts; 3) it would make the likelihood of Republican cooperation in essential policy initiatives worse, not better, and finally, 4) that the White House, once it was blocked by Speaker Boehner, was lying when it claimed that the conflict was accidental.

This was not some calculated ideological spin; I don’t do that.  I may be full of baloney sometimes, but I don’t do that. My analysis was based on conventional and scholarly knowledge of what constitutes leadership, fairness, and professionalism. But the President’s media cheering section, which has mastered the art of making objective criticism seem like “conservative attacks”, once again attempted to misrepresent the story to suit the kind of political agenda objective journalists are ethically bound to avoid.

Here’s the Washington Post in its early edition yesterday: Continue reading