Months of posturing on the House and Senate floors while battling over tax rates and unemployment benefits culminated in Tuesday night’s feigned display of brotherhood during the State of the Union address. Legislators made sure we knew that they were laying down their partisan pretensions by sitting next to the enemy during the president’s big speech.
When the ends justify the means government ethics is an anachronism. Classic abuses like corruption in office are difficult to ignore and are usually punished sooner or later. Sneaky bad behaviors like spreading propaganda and disinformation are subtle and do more damage because they are harder to spot and can influence millions.
Capitol Hill still hasn’t rid Washington of insider trading. Like term limits, that’s going to be a very difficult ethics rule to get everyone to agree to but at least it’s a conflict we know about.
Government ethics: the worst problems hide
The worst types of unethical behavior are the ones we don’t see coming. They undermine what America stands for and what we believe in. Examples are political rhetoric that distorts the truth, pandering to big money donors, and selecting special interests for legislative favoritism. All of these things point to how government ethics falls by the wayside when opportunity knocks.
The ethics of winning and losing
The rise and fall of Hillary Rodham Clinton and lingering anger among her supporters speaks volumes about America's ability to look the other way when confronted with ethical lapses.
With Donald Trump in charge ethics is about foreign interference in our government. Robert Mueller took the first head with the Manafort indictment. Now we’re warned that Michael Flynn could be another thorn in the administration’s foot in a scandal that likely won’t go away and may never be resolved.
On Capitol Hill government ethics has turned to harassment and sexual misconduct. America wanted bipartisanship, now a scandal that’s causing problems for both parties is giving us what we asked for.
What is the Government Ethics category about?
The government ethics category is about what happens when political opportunity takes precedence over doing the right thing. From fake politics to outright thievery, as long as there is money and power to be had ethics will be an inconvenience best ignored.
During the now-forgotten controversy over extending the Bush tax rates, harsh invective ruled the day. The escalating war of words linked the wealthy to financial firms blamed for precipitating the recession, as if anyone making over $250,000 annually was by necessity employed on Wall Street.
President Obama played a pivotal role in keeping the dialogue going, reminding Americans how the wealthy benefited at their expense during the Bush years:
And keep in mind wealthy Americans are just about the only folks who saw their incomes rise when Republicans were in charge.
While perusing the produce aisle of a grocery store last Saturday, I overheard a woman telling her companion that “Tea Partiers are killing Democrats in Arizona.” She had received a text message from a family member, so she knew her statement to be true, even though the shootings had been in the news for the past hour, and other than the usual media speculation, there was no evidence that any political group was involved.
2010 was a bad one, folks. At year’s end unemployment is barely changed. Small businesses are still struggling. We are so desperate for good economic news that favorable changes in indicators that would have gone unnoticed before the recession bring frenzied news flashes about a recovery.
There is hope for a better 2011, even if the only bright spot at the moment is the end of Nancy Pelosi’s reign of horrific irresponsibility.
Mitch McConnell likes to play both sides of the fence. Republicans built their midterm election resurgence on promises to cut spending, and by adopting Tea Party demands for Washington to reverse its course. McConnell sounded agreeable, even resolute, when he assented to a non-binding GOP earmark moratorium:
I have to lead first by example. Nearly every day that the Senate’s been in session for the past two years, I have come down to this spot and said that Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people.