Leading Ethically Only is an educational outreach of Leadership Ethics Online (LEO). Essays range widely--from ethical analysis of the news, to ethical challenges to leaders in society, to personal reflections of an ethical nature. We welcome your thoughts and criticisms to make us better.

Monday, June 21, 2010

An Ethical Woman - Pam Platt's Reflections Regarding an Apology to Jimmy Carter

Pam Platt has written an article in Louisville's sole remaining newspaper, the Courier-Journal.  This fine thinker has offered a "belated apology" to former President Jimmy Carter, in the light of the current Gulf oil debacle.  I recommend that you read her wise words, to be found at that link, along with one of Carter's prophetic speeches on energy.

When he was in the White House, most of us did not appreciate his foresight and vision regarding energy, or our dependence on petroleum as a matter of national security.  He declared the "moral equivalent of war" on untying America's future to petroleum, or dependence on foreign suppliers.  We need that declaration of war again but, this time, for it to be waged and won.

Reading Pam's column made me remember how I viewed Jimmy Carter.  I was raised a Kentucky Democrat.  I personally liked Carter as a man, but the fuel shortage crisis during his term, the 20% interest rates, and the Iranian Revolution, crippled him for reelection.  I voted for Ronald Reagan.

Why I Voted for Reagan

There was one reason.  Regan said he was concerned with the national debt, at that time one trillion dollars.  Back in 1979, I saw that debt as a threat to national security.  When foreign investors hold U.S. Treasury notes, they can influence the White House and Congress, contrary to national interest.  That was true in 1979 and it is today.  The wealthy, corporations hold most Treasury bills, their hands weigh Reagan tripled the debt, and Congress soon voted itself a pay raise.

A secondary reason for my first vote for a Republican was a sense of frustration with President Jimmy Carter's "Rose Garden" foreign policy on the Iran hostage crisis.  He seemed vacillating and weak, unable to be strong in the face of the Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution.  I liked Carter personally but felt America needed someone capable of stronger leadership. Khomeini released the hostages on the eve of Reagan's inauguration, showing his contempt for Jimmy Carter and, perhaps, a nod to Reagan's bellicosity.  Carter had tried negotiation.  Reagan threatened military action.

Once in office, Reagan became known as the Great Communicator.  His fatherly gravitas and patriotic language rallied all Americans.  I know I was impressed with his speeches and believability.  Most of us did not know that Reagan, TV actor and host to "Death Valley Days," spoke the sterling words put in his mouth by speechwriter, Peggy Noonan.  As far as his leadership, it would be years later we would learn, unlike Carter the Workaholic who read everything on everything, Regan's workdays were filled with naps.  Others in the White House would put before him what to sign, and his words to say before the public.  These are facts.

The Debt Increased:  Reagan and Bush

Under Reagan, the national debt was tripled, mainly through contracts to the military industrial complex and "Star Wars.  Taxes were slashed for corporations and the wealthy.  Federal regulations on business were loosened, with Reagan appealing to average Americans about the evils of "big government interfering in the lives of the people."  And the profits began to roll in for the wealthiest Americans.

David Stockman's "trickle down" economics--the propaganda that held "when the wealthy profit, the money runs downhill"--was a scam.  Stockman later wrote a book admitting that.  Corporate takeovers resulted in millions of firings for workers no longer needed in the "downsizings."  Millions of jobs began to flow to China.  The wealth from the Reagan years went into pockets not the People.  "Trickle Down" now has been called "Trickle On" the American middle class.

We just finished eight full years of former members of the Reagan White House--Cheney, Rumsfeld, and many others.  They were the brains who guided another Empty Suit who did their bidding.  September 11, 2001, was their perfect staging ground.  Reagan used the rhetoric of patriotism to unlock the Federal Treasury in Star Wars.  The War on Terror became the bullet-proof shield against blank checks for Bush and Cheney to feed Halliburton, the Carlyle Group, and other corporate friends with non-competitive contracts.

Like Reagan before, the Bush White House systematically reduced federal agencies tasked with corporate regulation.  The FBI's unit on corporate crime was stripped down and transferred to Homeland Security.  Tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations, and a tide of profits followed.  And for those who questioned the wide swathe cut into the U.S. Constitution, and the corporate feed trough, their patriotism was questioned.

Bush added to the national debt by nearly 30%.  The link shows every Republican administration added a net gain to our national debt, while every Democratic administration did not, at least to the present day.

Sen. McConnell, Stellar Partisan

Throughout the Bush years, Senator Mitch McConnell always stood behind the Empty Suit at every television appearance, smiling and nodding yes.  He was the perfect shill for all things Republican.  He was vocal to approve any Republican deficit spending, always "vital for national security" or "free market recovery."

When scandals appeared, he defended party leaders implicated.  He derided critics as unpatriotic and uncommitted to national security or our best interests.  When evidence of inproper or potentially illegal conduct piled up, he had nothing to say.  From the plan (or conspiracy) to start the Iraq War on false information presented to Congress and the American people, to such silliness as Harriet Myers's nomination to the Supreme Court, Mitch was the partisan.  But he never, ever was an Empty Suit.  No, he is apparently a brilliant Machiavellian.

Today he is the perfect hypocrite regarding deficit spending.  He leads every charge against deficit spending because it is not going into Republican pockets.  He repeatedly votes to deny unemployed Kentuckians extended benefits because "they are not paid for."  Every deficit package proposed by Democratic is "contributing to our deficit crisis" and "socialism" and "dangerous."  He speaks and votes as if his constituents back home are all wealthy and immune from unemployment.

Yet when he can, he still speaks up for the corporations.  After the Supreme Court's ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to be a "victory for free speech."  Why?  Corporations now can donate any millions to their favored candidates.  If any reform candidate appears who is immune to bribery, they can flood the airwaves with misrepresentations, attack ads, and lies against him.  He who cannot be bought CAN be destroyed.  So the Supreme Court majority--all Republicans--helped "free speech" to keep incumbent lackeys in office.  And Mitch is one.

Pam Platt's Apology to Carter, and Mine

I too have hindsight on both Carter and my vote against him.  I have had decades now to reassess his Presidency and all his work since, from his building homes for Habitat for Humanity, to his untiring work for peace in the Middle East.  So I have composed my own apology, from the point of view of what I teach--ethical leadership.  If someone can get my humble words to him, please do.

Dear Mr. Carter,

I want to thank you for being an ethical leader throughout your life and career.  You have used your intelligence and gifts to improve the lives of others.  You truly model the Golden Rule.  You love your neighbor as much as you do yourself.  You take risks to do the right thing, regardless of political consequences, or attacks upon yourself and your reputation.

I voted against you back in 1979, for the reasons stated above.  I made a grave error.  The Republican Party has made much of moral issues--abortion, homosexuality, patriotism.  Yet when they have had power, they have shown an immoral disregard for what Mother Theresa called, "the poorest of the poor."  In fact, they have added millions to the rolls of the American poor.

I apologize to you, Sir, for having failed to understand or appreciate what you were doing when President.  I wish now I had voted for you again.

But I pledge to you now to do what I am doing--teaching principles of ethical leadership you yourself have modeled throughout your life.  You are a Christian.  Jesus said, "You will know the tree by its fruits."  Your fruits demonstrate bold  and innovative ideas, courage against unprincipled opposition, and finally, a positive outcome for people, from America and all over the world.

Teaching ethical leadership for me means supporting people who practice it, and opposing those who do not to the harm of others.  I am no partisan in this matter.

Democrat, Republican, or Independent, I will support any American in office, or seeking office, who loves the United States of America more than self-interest and reelection.  To any incumbent or candidate of any party willing to ignore or harm the American people out of partisan or ties to special interests, I pledge bold opposition.

May you, Mr. Carter, "live long and prosper," to use the words of Spock in Star Trek.  We are on a perilous journey now in America.  We need your leadership for as long as you're able!

John D. Willis

Pam Platt, Thank YOU!

It requires moral courage to say, "I'm sorry."  To use the public forum of a news column adds moral force to what you had to say.  Keep on using your precious place in the press, assured by the First Amendment, to uplift our thoughts and ennoble our efforts as Americans.  We need more like you, an exemplar of ethical leadership!

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