One of the biggest ethical issues is that of honesty. Honesty is often the litmus test for strong character, and for politicians this can’t be more true. So why do so many politicians struggle with taking direction from a moral compass?
A 2009 Gallup Poll found that, for the first time, 55% of Americans believed honesty and ethical standards of members of Congress were low or very low. The percentage of Americans now believing that members of Congress have low ethics is up from 46% in 2008 and 45% in 2007, and has more than doubled since the start of the decade – rising from 21% in November 2000 to 55% today. The majority of the public should trust that politicians are representing them in honest ways and adhering to high ethical standards, so why do the majority of Americans believe differently?
It seems like every week a new story breaks about the lies, deceits and scandals of a politician (or two). These political blunders, however, are rarely admitted to in a timely manner by the accused, and generally, the only response is a lie which further perpetuates the issue. Case in point: John Edwards.
Once a Vice Presidential candidate, John Edwards has not exactly been a pillar of honesty. First he lied about his extramarital affair: mistake number one. He then admitted to the affair, but denied fathering his mistress’ child: mistake number two. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you. Or isn’t that how it goes?
Unfortunately, when faced with the option of lying or telling the truth, many politicians would rather risk the odds of telling a lie than admit to a mistake. I want to let everyone in on a little public relations secret (that should not be so secret): People will forgive a mistake; they will not forgive a lie. An admitted mistake represents a human fallacy, a lapse in judgement. Everyone makes mistakes, but it is what comes after the mistake that really carries ethical weight. A lie represents more than a mistake; it represents a lapse in judgement followed by clarity in judgement: the clarity that comes with the intent to deceive. We call them the keepers of the public trust, but our representatives need to constantly scrutinize their actions and ask themselves whether or not they are truly living up to that name.