Yonason Goldson
Ethics Ninja and Hitchhiking Rabbi

A Tale of Two Icons

What’s the difference between Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton?

Obviously, gender.

Less obviously, expectations.

In an interview with NPR’s Shankar Vedantam, Mary-Hunter McDonnell of the Wharton school of business explained the difference between how men and women are judged by their peers for ethical infractions.

Professor McDonnell and her colleagues asked volunteers to recommend a jail sentence for a hospital administrator who filed a false Medicare claim. When the volunteers believed that the administrator was a woman, the average suggested sentence increased by over 60%.

The researchers also analyzed over 500 disciplinary proceedings in 33 states by the American Bar Association. They discovered that women were disbarred more than twice as often for similar types of misconduct.

The assumption here is that, since women are expected to be more ethical, they are punished more severely when they violate ethical standards.

This may be unfair in practice, but in principle is makes perfect sense. Moral people are expected to behave better than immoral people; consequently, we find their moral lapses less tolerable.

Which brings us back to the Clintons.

Bill Clinton has repeatedly shown himself to be a person with no moral compass whatsoever.  True, he possesses affability and charisma — both entirely lacking in his wife. But even though his ethical transgressions are at least as bad as hers, he has retained soaring popularity among his supporters.

Ms. Clinton, on the other hand, can claim little affection from even from her most stalwart allies. She is accepted, but never embraced. Quite possibly, the same moral failings that are overlooked in the husband rankle more in the wife. After all, we really do expect more from women than from men, don’t we?

Fortunately for Ms. Clinton, she will be running in the general election against a man who makes even her husband look good. As always, the Clintons are blessed in their enemies.

But there’s a message here that transcends politics.

The Talmud tells us that Mount Sinai was so named because it produced sinah — hatred — among the nations of the earth. Once the Jewish people became recognized throughout the world as a chosen people, the world expected us to live up to our name. And when we fall short, the nations turn passionately against us, no matter how much worse other nations may behave.

As we approach the holiday of Shavuos, we will do well to remember that both the letter and the spirit of the Law provide us with the means to elevate ourselves morally and spiritually in fulfillment of our mission as a Light to the Nations.  When we fall short, we fan the embers of Jew-hatred and moral anarchy.  But when we rise to the challenge, the nations of the world cannot help but proclaim of us, as the Torah promises, “Behold, how wise and understanding a people is this great nation!”

About the Author
Rabbi Yonason Goldson is a TEDx speaker and award-winning podcast host. He works with leaders to create a culture of ethics that earns trust, sparks initiative, and drives productivity. His column, The Ethical Lexicon, appears weekly in Fast Company Magazine, and he has authored seven books, most recently, "The Spiral of Time: Discovering new insights and inspiration in the Jewish calendar." Visit him at
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