Monday, November 9, 2020

Why Politics Becomes Dirty Business

The world of politics looks like a mess these days. We constantly hear about corruption and scandal. One politician strikes a shady deal to line her pockets, while another cheats on his wife just because he can. 

People who seem to have good morals and noble character seem to go bad when they get to the Capital.

I met a former congressman from Oklahoma some time ago who had served in the U.S. Congress for 10 years. He told me something I have never forgotten. "People are elected and go to Washington," he said, "believing that it's a cesspool. When they've been there for a while, they start thinking that it's a Jacuzzi."

The ability to wield power changes people. We begin desiring to use power for good, and then we reframe what is actually good. Before long, we can do mental and ethical gymnastics to justify all sorts of behavior. We vote for bad legislation to get other people to vote for our good legislation. We hide shady deals behind a cloak of national security. We help out our friends in business because, obviously, when businesses succeed everybody wins.

 And politics is the art of compromise. We learn how to make deals to keep our campaign promises. It's a short leap to compromise morally, for the greater good, of course.

I say, "we" because every human is tempted by power. We may believe that we would never fall to corruption if we were elected to office. I suspect that nearly every elected official believes that when first elected. Yet so many cave to temptation. Maybe you would be the rare exception. But this corruption sneaks up on the unsuspecting.

We desperately need some statesmen and stateswomen who can respond to the call to leadership and stay grounded in humility and accountability.

The Constitutional system of checks and balances is a pretty good way of stopping corruption. But obviously we need honorable people to make it work.