Sunday, November 26, 2006

SOUND OFF: INFLUENCING ELECTIONS

The day after the recent midterm elections, President George W. Bush announced the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, his secretary of defense.

Not long before the elections, the president had been quoted as saying that he would not replace Rumsfeld and that he hoped Rumsfeld would serve for the rest of the Bush administration. As it turned out, however, the two men had been discussing Rumsfeld's resignation for quite some time and the departure was planned whether or not the Democrats took control of the House or Senate.

Bush told reporters that he had not wanted to influence the elections by making an announcement beforehand, even though he knew what he planned to do. Some Republicans who lost close races complained, arguing that Rumsfeld's resignation, had it been announced prior to the election, might have given them enough of a boost to hold onto their seats.

Do you believe that it was ethical for Bush not to announce Rumsfeld's resignation until after the midterm elections? If so, was it ethical for him to say that he planned no change, even when he now says that he was in fact planning a change?

Send your thoughts to rightthing@nytimes.com or post them here by clicking on "COMMENTS" below. Please include your name, your hometown and the name of the newspaper in which you read this column. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business" (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of http://jeffreyseglin.blogspot.com, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 609 Greenwich St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10014-3610.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jeff - it was political perhaps not ethical. Is ethics ever synonymous with political? No matter what he does, the president's critics believe he's
dishonest and any other negative adjective one can conjure.

George

Anonymous said...

This is a tough one in my mind. I agree with George (post 1) that whether Bush announced before or after the election he would be slammed. We do not have enough background information to know all the things that Bush was facing with regard to that decision. First, it is probable that it was not a decision that Bush wished to make. It is not even clear to me that there are good reasons to fire Rumsfield. No wonder it is difficult to get good men to accept responsible government jobs.

Further, it is not clear that the announcement would have helped the Republicans in those close races they lost. The spin being put out has very little to do with why the Republicans lost to the degree they did. They had lost their way, ignored what the core voters believe the core beliefs of the Republican to be, they had ignored what those core voters were crying out for, and they had fallen into the trap of big government for their own personal greed of power and benefits. In other words they were acting like Democrats. The voters decided it was time to shake things up and they did.

Unfortunately, it is doubtfull that the Republicans have learned the lesson. Putting back into leadership the same crew which had lead to such a beating at the polls will do little to return them to power. It is doubtful in my mind that the Republicans can return to total power in 2008. They will have to act differently and show a change in leadership to make that happen.

As to the Ethics of George Bush's decision not to announce before the election, it seems to me that the Chief Executive has a perogative to announce such a decision at a time of his choosing. Many reasons could be behind this enormous decision.

Neal
Atlanta, GA

Dunbar Jewell said...

I heard Bush say that he had discussed a change and that he did not want to announce any change before the election. I do not see any ethical question involved.

Whatever the President said would be distorted by the media and one is not required to govern for benefit of the media and is required to use one's best judgemnet before elections.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the others. I’m not sure it’s legitimate to frame this as an “ethical” question, since we don’t know all the facts. Possibly they discussed the option of Rumsfeld’s resignation and decided that if the Republicans experienced significant reverses in the elections, then they would announce it. In other words, Bush, who expressed confidence that the Republicans would win, indeed “planned no change,” but had Rumsfeld’s resignation as a contingency plan in case they lost.

Phil Clutts
Harrisburg, NC

Anonymous said...

I do not care so long as he is gone.

Anonymous said...

I didn't hear what the president said. According to the AP "President Bush said Wednesday he wants Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney to remain with him until the end of his presidency..."

I think this was political doublespeak. He said he wanted them to remain, but this does not preclude the possibility they might not. As president he can release information as he pleases-even if it seems to contradict prior statements.

I think this kind of tactic IS unethical, and I would not do business with someone who employs these kinds of schemes. Unfortunately, it seems to be the norm in the political arena.

Wendy Hagmaier
Fullerton, CA

Anonymous said...

Lying is not ethical behavior

Jeffrey Seglin said...

Eric Alterman weighs in on the topic in an article in The Nation at:

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20061211/alterman

Anonymous said...

I strongly feel it is most unethical for Bush to make a public announcement that he was going to retain Rumsfeld and then immediately oust him after the election. It's an outright deceit and furthermore, I cannot see any political advantage for it. Maybe Bush had the misapprehension that the public wanted Rumsfeld kept. Or, maybe Cheney told Junior to keep him. But, whatever the reasoning, or lack thereof, in my opinion it was unethical, dishonest, and another example of the absence of serious critical thinking.

Mort Nickell

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey, I hope you do not think my comments are flip or intentionally irritating but in political campaigns, especially the national elections like we just went through, anything that Bush did in connection with firing Don Rumsfeld "after the fact", would seem to me to be within the bounds of ethical conduct, particularly when his explanation makes sense to me. This is markedly true when you consider the reprehensively unethical conduct of the Democrats, knowing about the Mark Foley situation months or years before breaking it in the last days of the election and making it seem that the Republicans were hiding something, when it was they who were hiding it. I guess what I am trying to say is - when politics is considered, ethics is the last thing that either party considers, getting elected is all that is important. Ethics is the last thing we need to consider when thinking about politics.

Charlie Seng

Anonymous said...

Rumsfeld would still be Sec. of Defense if the Republicans would have held the Congress by any margin. Bush continues to insist this war is helping us,and refuses to admit any bad judgement on his part. The lie is the war itself.

Anonymous said...

A lie by any other name still stinks.

Lying is unethical, and this is just one of hundreds that have escaped this president's lips. The only reason it isn't completely offensive is that it pales in comparison to the deadly ones that lead us into Iraq.

Jane Scharankov
East Marion, NY

Nijel Gibson said...

The only thing that makes this an ethical question was how the President strongly endorsed his SecDef - which amounted to a cover up of his plans to replace said cabinet officer. The President could have said any number of throwaway lines that politicians use all of the time ("I don't discuss personnel decisions in the media") any one of which would have been true both before and after the election.

The President chose to lie. Lying is unethical. Saying "the other guy lies is a copout children might use.

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