March 2007 "Easy Calls"
  • It will come as a shock to all the Scoreboard critics who argue that it is wrong to pass ethical judgement upon the conduct of others, but I strongly believe that nobody has cause or standing to question the ethics of presidential candidate John Edwards’ decision to continue his campaign despite his wife’s serious health crisis. The dilemma faced by the Edwards family is a clash of priorities and duties. Duty to family and duty to country are both worthy of being placed at the very top of any individual’s living principles, and when the two are in direct opposition, choosing either over the other is an equally ethical choice. Such a choice requires sacrifice and courage. The nation has had presidents such as William McKinley, who was absolutely devoted to his invalid wife but pursued and achieved the White House despite her deteriorating health. And the nation has had many potential presidents who decided that they could not sacrifice their attention to a family in need to the needs of the country. Edwards’ decision would be unethical if it were shown to be motivated by naked ambition, callous disregard for his wife, or other base considerations. There is no reason to suspect this. No ethical principle dictates a “right” way to balance a looming family tragedy and a professional quest that affects the welfare hundreds, thousands or even millions of people. But there is an ancient tradition in the theater that Senator Edwards would understand, and one that is associated with dedication, obligation, and the ability to carry on while your heart is breaking: “The show must go on.” [3/28/2007]

  • It is an Easy Call to say that the anti-Hillary Clinton YouTube parody of the famous Apple Computers Superbowl ad was unethical. The parody, which substituted Clinton’s face for the image of George Orwell’s sinister “Big Brother” in the original commercial, garnered more than 2 million viewers on the site and may actually have wounded the Clinton campaign. It was not the work of an unknown web-geek, however; it was created by Phil de Vellis, an employee of the company that designed the web site of Clinton’s main rival for the 2008 nomination, Barack Obama. If de Vellis had revealed this from the outset, the video would have been seen as an Obama campaign attack ad and would have attracted considerably less attention. As an anonymous creation, however, it was far more powerful, the statement of a member of the public, not a political contractor. De Vellis’ company, Blue State Digital, promptly fired him, but it is certain that he will come out ahead. He made a political ad that caused an immediate sensation, and the fact that he launched it dishonestly and embarrassed both his company and the candidate who hired it won’t stop another campaign from signing him up. De Vellis’ unethical conduct, in other words, paid off spectacularly. He’s now famous and marketable, Clinton’s candidacy is shaken, and his candidate, Obama, is the beneficiary. It’s tough to be an ethicist when dirty tactics seem to work so well. But let future employers of Phil de Vellis beware. This isn’t his first deceptive use of the web: in the 2006 campaign, he posted anonymous critiques of the opponent of Sherrod Brown, who was running for the Ohio Senate, on various websites and blogs without divulging that Brown was paying him. He is a proven and serial liar, and there are at least two good reasons not to knowingly hire such an individual. The first is that he can’t be trusted. The second is that hiring him tells the world that his employer can’t be trusted. [3/24/2007]

  • Boors, low-lifes and arrested adolescents who happen to drive 18-wheelers for a living can rejoice: the Maryland legislature’s proposed ban on giant fake scrotal sacks, sexually explicit mud flap graphics and other vulgar truck decorations that pass for wit at “Mom’s Brew and Pie” died without a vote. Their “right to free expression,” moronic though that expression may be, has been preserved, and Halleluiah for that! Next, I’m sure these ready humorists of the highways will devise truck horns that sound like elephant farts, and giggle hysterically as they bolt giant erect phalluses to the back of their trailers, just to unsettle any little old ladies who may be driving behind. Just a cautionary note from the Scoreboard: the fact that such crude nonsense is probably not an appropriate subject for state law doesn’t make it any more ethical. There is little difference between forcing the public to endure offensive imagery on the roads and dropping garbage on the landscape, except that vulgarity qualifies, just barely, as expression, and in America we try not to make public expression illegal unless it threatens real harm. All this kind of expression does is communicate that “The driver of this vehicle is a self-centered, uncivilized clod who would probably lose to his truck if he challenged it to a game of Scrabble.” If that’s the message the less-evolved truckers are determined to convey, I guess the rest of us will just have to live with it. [3/15/2007]

  • As The Scoreboard has pointed out more than once, and will probably have many occasions to do again, the truth is not altered or degraded by the identity of the person who speaks it. The fact that Newt Gingrich was in the midst of his own workplace-spawned extra-marital affair when he helped lead the charge against President Clinton’s Monica conduct doesn’t change any of these facts: 1) Clinton, a supposed champion on women’s rights, engaged in text-book sexual harassment; 2) he lied about it under oath in a court of law, violating his oath of office and the law of the land; 3) he used the power and resources of his office to engineer a cover-up; 4) lied to the American people about it and sent out spokespeople to lie about it on his behalf, and 5) as President, was subject to a higher standard of conduct than any other American. Gingrich’s infidelities did not parallel Clinton’s on any of these points, except perhaps the first. His misconduct does not excuse Clinton’s, unless you are a fan of the “everybody does it” argument which was, in fact, a favorite rallying cry of such diverse Clinton allies as Lanny Davis, Gloria Steinem (to her undying shame) and Larry Flynt. As readers of the Scoreboard know, that argument gets no traction here. But does Gingrich’s conduct tell us something important about him? Absolutely. He has shown himself to be unable to live up to the standards he would punish others for failing, and he is sufficiently dishonest to publicly attack a political opponent in indignant tones while secretly engaging in the same underlying conduct he condemns. In other words, Newt Gingrich can’t be trusted—just like Bill Clinton. Why this would give any comfort to Clinton’s supporters is a mystery.[3/15/2007]

  • To say that Ann Coulter is uncivil, disrespectful and often unfair in her published and verbal attacks against Democrats and liberals goes beyond an Easy Call to “stating the screamingly obvious.” That’s Coulter’s shtick; she’s the Andrew Dice Clay or Lenny Bruce of political commentary. It isn’t right, but Coulter continues to profit by it, since many people enjoy hearing someone without manners or basic decency call one’s opponents insulting names that they themselves would never dare to use in public. Now she has Democrats up in arms because she referred to John Edwards as a “faggot” in a speech. This is not only crude and nasty; it doesn’t make any sense. It’s like calling Donald Rumsfeld a “nigger” or Rudy Guliani a “kike”—huh? Ann is getting desperate, I guess; now she’s just saying stuff to upset people with no pretense at including actual thought or content. It’s high time that conservatives and Republicans stopped encouraging Coulter by buying her inflammatory books and listening to her mean-spirited speeches. She’s the equivalent of a vandal in the national political discourse, and vandals are not ethical. Neither are people who cheer vandals on. [3/10/2007]

  • In the interests of time and efficiency, the Scoreboard hereby renders the ethical verdict regarding Senator Domenici and Rep. Wilson of New Mexico contacting U.S. Attorney David Iglesias regarding the pace of his investigations of Democrats before the 2006 elections. It was unethical for the senator and the congresswoman to attempt to influence a Justice Department lawyer’s work, because it would be unethical for the lawyer to either tell them anything about the investigation or to be influenced by anything they said. They were attempting to get him to violate his ethical obligations of independent judgement, both under New Mexico Bar rules and government ethics regulations. And it was unethical for Iglesias not to report both contacts to the Justice Department and the Bush administration. There. Now watch Congress hold hearing and waste taxpayer money settling what is, or should be, an Easy Call. [3/10/2007]

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