Thursday, July 19, 2012

Romney 2012: A Study in Why Ethics Matters

This post draws substantially on a post of mine from the 2008 election.  In that post I used a VP candidate's behavior to illustrate some ethical problems.  This time, sadly, I must use a presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.  For I think his behavior exemplifies certain ethical lapses - which strike at the heart of why his campaign is currently experiencing so many difficulties.  Let me set the scene with some paragraphs from the prior post:
"Most professions offer some training in ethics. But an ethics code, no matter how detailed, is no substitute for extensive training in ethical decision-making. And many people who enter politics may stumble seriously for lack of sensitivity to ethics. Awareness of boundaries and the ability to draw firm boundaries goes a long way toward protecting oneself from ethical lapses. I doubt politicians get any training in that. And then we’re just left with the person’s own ethical understanding. That, to my mind, is exactly why character and temperament are so important in picking leaders.
"What follows is a list of general problems, which may arise from a failure to draw boundaries (borders) between professional roles and duties versus private or personal roles and duties. Many of the examples in this list relate to [Mitt Romney] specifically, but they are typical of the kinds of problems any politician, bureaucrat, or other professional might face."
In the case of Romney, I'll also be adding some other issues relating to his failure to draw boundaries between the personal, the business, and the political realms.  And perhaps what I have to say will throw light on the conflicts currently boxing Mitt in, some of which I have already detailed here.

Please excuse the numbering below.  It should read 1 and 2, but the software and I are incompatible!  (At least I can recognize a boundary violation when I see one.)
  1. "When a politician mixes personal and professional [and political] roles, he or she is not looking out for the citizens’ interests so much as for his or her own." 
  • Romney, for personal reasons, wants to withhold releasing years of taxes.  His personal reasons?  Shame, it would appear.  He is putting this before a fiduciary duty to voters.  (Interestingly, he should feel ashamed not to do as his father did.  So there's another role conflict in his tangled inner torment.)
  • Romney, for similar personal reasons is trying to disclaim responsibility for 3 or 4 years of his tenure at Bain, even though business and government records indicate his involvement.  And even though his prior role as Chairman, CEO, and Sole Owner would have set the tone and business plan for his company's conduct during those years.  His reason?  Again, to avoid shame.  This time on both the personal and the professional (business) levels.
  1. (#2) "Drawing boundaries helps a person make ethical decisions.
  • It seems that Romney is unable to recognize that political obligations - transparency related to the fact that he has put himself forth as a candidate for the highest office in the land – supersede personal wishes
  • And he fails to recognize that his obligations to the voters supersede his own needs or preferences as a private individual.
  • If Romney could draw boundaries between his various roles here, he would be able to accede to the public's right to know as well as to the pleas of members of his own party, whom he is stubbornly ignoring - due to putting personal pride ahead of fiduciary duties.
Let's go back to my prior post for a few more choice paragraphs (under which are discussion bullets related to Romney's ethical difficulties):
"In my view people who can draw boundaries have one of the single most important qualities of a good leader or good supervisor, no matter where they might work. These are people who grade fairly and treat students or employees or children equally. Who can place professional responsibilities above personal needs. Who recognize that authority is not a power to wield but a responsibility one discharges. That the one with greater power always has greater responsibility to draw boundaries and exercise special care for those they serve or who serve under them."
  •  Romney shows a failure to draw boundaries as early as his time at Bain.  Recall the photo where he, as CEO, shares with his employees a group prank.  They all have $$$ coming out of their pockets.  This may seem a small thing.  But it indicates that he, as a manager, has failed to lead.  He is joining with them, perhaps even put them up to this, in behaving like a schoolboy.  (Behavior which was also evident in high school and college - when he organized gangs to bully fellow students.)
  • Likely there are other examples from Romney's life.  We may soon see them, as I suspect we have not seen the last of press investigation or opposition research.  (Or could be a trip to foreign lands...)
  • Yup!  Romney:  Disowned by venture capitalists.  His lack of transparency and conflicting claims (in business dealings) contribute to a culture of mistrust and corruption.  Boston Globe digs deeper, finds more blurred boundaries.
"The contradictory representations in [Mitt's] Government Ethics Office and SEC filings are at best evasive and at worst a violation of federal law. A federal statute -- 18 U.S.C. § 1001 -- provides that anyone who "in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully -- (1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact; (2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation" shall be fined or imprisoned. Violations of federal securities laws, including the making of false statements in a 13D filing, are independently punishable under the securities laws.
"Although prosecutions for false statements in 13D filings are not common, Michael Milken, the junk bond king, was prosecuted by Rudy Giuliani, and went to jail for aiding and abetting a false Schedule 13D filing by Ivan Boesky."
"Persons with certain character disorders, particularly narcissistic individuals, who lack empathy for others (e.g. cannot put themselves in the shoes of others), seem particularly prone to problems with ethics and boundaries. To begin with these individuals tend to overvalue themselves and believe what they are doing is right and proper. They may refrain from second-guessing themselves or seeking advice as to the appropriateness of their behavior. This puts them at a disadvantage when making decisions. If they happen to be a politician, it then puts the voters, We The People, at a decided disadvantage. When a politician, or indeed any professional, puts his or her own personal needs above professional duties, the fiduciary responsibility of the person in power is sacrificed on the altar of selfishness. The politician has failed society and indeed his or her oath of office."
  • This is exactly what we are currently seeing in Mitt Romney's stubborn behavior in his refusal to release many years of taxes (his father released 12) as well as his unwillingness to accept responsibility for a business plan, which allowed for the closing of factories, firing of workers, and bankrupting of businesses acquired by his company.
  • While I do not presume to "diagnose" Mr. Romney, whatever it is that has led to his difficulty with ethics, particularly in terms of boundary violations, constitutes a fatal flaw in his character, which might seriously interfere with his ability to carry out the duties of president in an ethical manner.  Buyer beware!
" To my mind, when it comes to the presidency, the Oath of Office is the single most important duty. That oath is to The Constitution. Once again, since few politicians get any training in political ethics, we are left with the person’s own ethical understanding, which is exactly why character and temperament are vitally important in picking leaders."
Mr. Romney seems to be ruled by his pride.  And this, to my mind, is his Achilles Heel.  To the extent that the election feeds into his fear of shame and difficulty swallowing his pride, I anticipate his campaign will continue to have problems.  And should he win, I hesitate to even contemplate how foreign forces could exploit this weakness of his, let alone other powerful forces within this country, be they political, corporate, societal.

Naturally, I could be wrong.  But Buyer Beware!
[The writer is a retired Clinical Psychologist, who spent 7 years as an appointed member of the Ethics Committee of her state psychological association.  She has a longstanding interest in Ethics.]

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