The more ethical rules Washington, D.C. politicians adopt, the more unethical they become. “Ethics” in Washington consists of an absurdly minor and arbitrary set of rules that pols observe while they advance startlingly immoral legislation. D.C. politicians dutifully sign their “ethics” forms. Then they go off to vote for the preservation of partial-birth abortion. Congress still hasn’t banned all forms of cloning or instituted rules regulating scientists engaged in the routine destruction of human life. But regulating the Talmudic reading of restaurant bills in D.C.? That Congress can do.
The pharisaical fervor over Tom DeLay and John Bolton is one more illustration of the emptiness of “ethics” in Washington. We see thieves invoking ethical rules against DeLay, and boorish playboys browbeating Bolton for his supposed mistreatment of women.
Put the most sinister construction on their charges against Bolton and they still look like a day in the Clinton marriage. If mistreating women is a disqualifier for service at the U.N., what’s Bill Clinton doing working there this year? Oh, that’s right: molesting Kathleen Willey in the Oval Office doesn’t count as mistreatment. That was private. It’s not as if Clinton yelled at her during a policy disagreement.
The Washington Post predicts that the “controversy over House Majority Leader Tom DeLay will trigger an ethics war” in the nation’s capital. Just that phrase alone, “ethics war,” exposes the phoniness of the concept. Does “ethics war” mean that D.C. pols will compete with each other to become better people? Does it mean they’ll jostle with each other to see who’s more faithful to the Ten Commandments? No, it means one faction of immoral operators will inspect the minor missteps of another faction, and hope they emerge from the petty contest looking more “ethical” in the eyes of the public so they’ll acquire more power with which to advance immoral legislation.
“Lawmakers are paying old restaurant bills, filling missing forms and correcting erroneous ones as journalists and political opponents comb through records and DeLay (R-Tex.) attempts to answer questions about travel financing and his past relationships with lobbyists,” reports the Post.
The race is on to see which party has committed the most foot faults. “Every time we go down there to check on something or refile something, we have noticed someone is going through our file,” Jason C. Roe, chief of staff to Congressman Tom Feeney, said to the Post. “Some people are just resigned that everyone is going to get kicked in the teeth while this goes on.”
What will come out of this? Politicians more committed to reducing the size of government so that lobbyists’ won’t bother to buy their lunches? No, just more convoluted rules and probably a new “ethics” consultation lobby. Before pols will go off to vote for financing embryo experimentation, they’ll first consult with their “ethics” counselor about filing the proper form for the dinner they had the night before with NOW lobbyists.
All of the ethics rules that spread after Watergate didn’t produce more deeply moral politicians, just more manipulative ones. The good-government posturing severed ethics from morality, reducing ethics to a merely technical skill. The nickel-and-dime corruption of which the Democrats accuse DeLay — and which is on constant display in their own conduct — will remain the norm in D.C. as long as it is on the right side of the ledger. It’s the product not of the absence of ethical rules but the presence of big government, a trough that widens each year, bringing more and more lobbyists to town.
The severing of ethics from morality in D.C. made it possible for Bill Clinton to claim that he would run “the most ethical administration ever.” He had no intention of following ethical rules, big or small, but it sounded good at the time and he wanted to signal to good-government types that he would pay homage to the thicket of rules that cropped up after Watergate. Clinton liked the idea that one could acquire ethics from periodic sessions with counselors. For a time he traveled with a battalion of them as if his character formation was something he could delegate to experts.
The Post reports that the frenzy over DeLay has prompted the House to give members an “hour-long ‘ethics briefing.'” Ethics in less than an hour. Not bad. A few moments straining at the gnat, and then the congressmen can go back to their lobbyists’ feast on the camel.
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