Ethics, not corruption, should govern politics

There is a term that is often thrown around after such incidents as the recent “Bridgeghazi” and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s egregious cronyism — “ethics,” specifically, “political ethics.” People across the nation are disgusted and angered by these politicians’ behaviors and actions. However, politicians have committed crimes and masterminded schemes for decades.

“This is not a new phenomenon,” said Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Robert Duncan. “Political corruption has existed since the founding of the republic.”

“These problems are widespread and can be found in almost every one of our political and economic institutions, including Guilford,” said Joseph Cole, visiting assistant professor of philosophy.

However, should the public accept this is a part of life?

Some have stated that American politics is not broken because we have so many scandals, but because we simply do not have enough. Deals, earmarks and under-the-table transactions, such as those sponsored by Governor McDonnell, arguably move along legislation and encourage compromise.

After all, as Duncan pointed out, “Politics is blood sport.”

To survive, politicians must occasionally commit their own Bridgeghazis or accept a few undisclosed donations — that’s part of the job description, right?

After all, when and if these scandals are revealed, they provide nice humor and a topic for dinner table conversations. Certainly, conversing over the political impacts of such events is much more interesting than the usual topics of business and family life.

Anyway, the only thing politicians lose in the process is voter confidence — as if that really mattered to them.

Maybe it’s time that it did.

The aforementioned justifications are simply too often used to be of much merit, and if the public comes to accept them, it will only exacerbate the problem.

“Saying that it is inevitable makes it more likely to happen because people are less likely to be held to account if their behavior is normalized,” said Chair and Assistant Professor of Political Science Maria Rosales.

Politicians and the individuals they represent lose much more than a few votes for such actions.

“Corruption and abuse of power tends to solidify inequality and unearned privileges,” said Cole.

By secretively negotiating deals and contracts, politicians are not only undermining the very people they depend on to attain their position, but also show blatant disrespect for the institution of which they are a part. They fail to uphold the basic tenets outlined in the very Constitution that they vow to adhere and uphold.

However, admittedly, there is one exception to the violation of American law.

“The only time a politician would be justified in engaging in such a scandalous affair would be if he/she is the President of the United States and is acting in the interest of national security,” said Duncan.

“For example, I think that though President Obama did violate Pakistani sovereignty during the raid on Bin Laden’s compound, he was acting in the best interest of the public and thus was justified.”

But engineering elaborate plots to exact political revenge on an unsupportive mayor or accepting funds and gifts for the sole purpose of promoting certain businesses is simply unacceptable and unjustifiable. Such actions only illuminate the true character of a person and his beliefs, and we cannot accept or forgive them.

As Cole said, “Much work is left to be done to build … just and ethical political and economic institutions.

“Part of the challenge is to embrace a new model of leadership as service and stewardship instead of leadership as power and personal enrichment.”