"...are all white lies moral failings or not?"
I'd say, "No."
Is it a moral failing when we say, "Good day" to someone when it doesn't feel like a good day to us? No, it isn't a lie, it is a social ritual not intended to be a factual statement. Sometimes white lies are more emotional communications (or rituals) than statements of fact.
Kira's motivation was to help her mother feel as if she was offering value for value. Kira said, "I like it. I’ll buy it, Mother.” . . . “I was going to buy an evening gown, anyway,” - she could have said, “Thank you, Mother. It is beautiful.” . . . “I might need an evening gown, anyway,” and not told a lie but accompished the same purpose. And the purpose wasn't to deceive.
I said that better interpersonal communications would eliminate most white lies. That is the case the this Kira example would fall in (if it were a real life scene and not a literary exposition). This would NOT be an example of a need for higher self-esteem.
With body language and tone of voice, Kira (if this were real life), could have accepted the gown without any lie. I suspect that Ayn Rand chose to have Kira lie in this scene as an act of generosity towards her mother and as a way of highlighting her mother's desire to be offering value instead of begging. I don't believe that there is anything in that scene that is an example of a moral failing.
If self-esteem is a cardinal moral value, isn't a deficiency in self-esteem a moral deficiency?
I view self-esteem as the outcome, the result, of certain ways of using ones mind, of choices made over time. Each of the individual choices can be examined as an act that is ethical or unethical and to what degree. (Notice that I've changed your terminology from "moral" to "ethical" since a value is what we act to gain or keep and ethics is about the actions. There is no question that self-esteem is a value. Does it make sense to describe it as a "moral value"? As a "cardinal moral value"?
It doesn't make sense to me to view self-esteem as a virtue. High self-esteem is the result of the practice of what are virtuous acts (e.g., the practice of personal responsibility), but those acts are causes of self-esteem, and not the self-esteem itself. It isn't possible to have high self-esteem by simply willing it - it isn't a choice in that sense - or the product of a single act.
Rand and Branden were too quick to pronounce "low self-esteem."
I haven't focused on what Rand said about self-esteem, but I suspect that her understanding isn't as accurate or as sophisticated as Branden's was (later on, after they split). I do know that Branden, when I knew him, didn't "pronounce low self-esteem" as a moral failing. It wasn't the way he thought. He looked for the causes of low self-esteem and almost always from the prospect of seeing what dynamic the person could change to bring their self-esteem up.
I find a bit of discomfort at looking at anything as a "moral deficiency" or a "moral failing." Not because I'm opposed to passing judgements, and not because I don't think that there are a great many people whose lives exemplify moral deficiency and failing. But because to come to that conclusion about a person always arises (one hopes) from evidence of unethical behavior. If I have such evidence, lets say someone engages in fraud, or bullying, or tells lies frequently, then I don't need to say anything about "moral deficiency" as a generic, because I can nail them with their specific failings. Does that make sense?
(Edited by Steve Wolfer on 6/08, 9:34am)