The news is full of People Who Should Know Better Behaving Badly….
There’s that photo of Michael Phelps and the bong. Really, what was he thinking? Just doing what kids do? Not at age 23. Not with 8 Olympic medals around his neck and millions of dollars in corporate sponsorships to support his lifestyle forever. I heard a commentator on the radio this morning decrying the person who sent the photo to the media, as if outing the Phelps toke is worse than the smoke itself. Not! People in the public eye should know that there’s no such thing as a private indiscretion. I don’t buy the “sports hero” mania — they just play games, folks, it’s not brain surgery or fighting for the country or raising children well — but still, famous athletes and other celebrities should be aware that the public does hold them to a higher standard of conduct. Children do emulate the people they admire.
Phelps did apologize. Apologies are thick as smoke these days. Read on….
Tom Daschle “forgot” to pay nearly $150,000 in taxes. What was he thinking? He, too, has apologized — and this after noon he withdrew his name from consideration as Secretary of Health and Human Services. How can the former Senate minority leader — someone responsible for writing the nation’s tax laws — “forget” to pay taxes? Tax amnesia is spreading faster than the norovirus in Washington. Did Daschle catch tax amnesia from Timothy Geithner? Now Secretary of the Treasury Geithner — responsible for overseeing the I.R.S. — only “forgot” about $34,000 in taxes, a sum that is apparently not quite so serious as Daschle’s overdue bill.
Daschle supposedly made his decision to withdraw based in part upon a New York Times editorial today that called for him to do so.
Another Obama nominee, Nancy Killefer, in line to be the nation’s first “chief performance officer” has also withdrawn her candidacy upon the revelation that she neglected to pay D.C. Unemployment taxes for her household help until DC put a lien against her home.
What are these folks smoking? Can you be just a little bit overdue on taxes? For me, the very thought of paying late, or paying one dime less than I should, makes me almost neurotic with worry. I am sure I pay too much just to be sure I pay enough. Playing games with tax obligations is surely a form of roulette that people who aspire to high office should know enough to avoid. What message does it send to the rest of us hard-working law-abiding taxpayers that our high government officials neglect the second most fundamental duty of citizenship — after voting — the duty to pay taxes? The stories make it sound like these officials were too Busy With Important Affairs to give tax obligations a second thought. Like the rest of us don’t have equally important work!
All of this has been coming to light even as we are learning about the $18 BILLION in bonuses that Wall Street investment banks paid to their executives even after taking bailout money.
I am really scratching my head over all of this. Here at Trinity, we have this modest learning tool called the Honor System. We try to teach our students about ethics and integrity. Frankly, living an honorable life is about more than simply avoiding lying, cheating and stealing, which are the essential baselines. A truly honorable life is about living up to your social and community obligations — your citizenship obligations — in all matters. Honor includes paying taxes. Honor includes not taking more in compensation than a worldview built around a fundamental understanding of justice would allow. In a city where children go to bed hungry, in a world where poverty is the predominant lifestyle for most of the people on earth, simple justice demands the people of some means pay their taxes and uphold the common values of citizenship.