At some point during their careers, every elected official must decide whether their principles will shape their politics, or their politics will shape their principles. Unfortunately, in modern America there seems to be a shortage of politicians who are willing to stand on principle, regardless of the political fallout. But voters notice when elected officials let politics shape their principles, and they often vote accordingly. For proof that putting politics over principle can be dangerous, just ask the recently defeated Republican Party.
In my post-election commentary, I noted that Christian conservatives contributed to the Republican defeat last November. Confronted with rampant GOP corruption, few prominent Christian leaders clearly and forcefully denounced Republican misdeeds. Now that Democrats have won a congressional majority, it will be interesting to see whether there will be as much hesitance to speak out.
Corruption should be a nonpartisan issue. When individual representatives or senators are receiving bribes from lobbyists, or when they are being paid to use their power for private gain, it is not just bad for their political party, it is bad for the whole nation. Their misdeeds taint the entire Congress and make it more difficult for our representatives to do their jobs. Personal misconduct typically says little about one’s party; a senator does not take a bribe because she is a Republican, a congressman does not accept illegal gifts because he is a Democrat. Generally it is personal greed and selfishness that drives corrupt politicians, not politics.
Personal weakness becomes a political issue when the governing party turns a blind eye to corruption. There will probably never be a time when every member of congress is perfectly upright. Combine power with a fallen human nature and there will always be problems, on both sides of the aisle. Yet if both political parities stood on principle and took all signs of corruption seriously, corruption would not be a political issue. It would be seen more as a personal shortcoming. However, sometimes Republicans and Democrats try to protect ethically challenged members of their party for political reasons. Before long, this desire to cover up immoral behavior leads to a “culture of corruption”, which can, as we have seen, become extremely partisan.
Incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has made a commendable promise. She said the next Congress will be “the most honest, most open, and most ethical Congress in history.” Politicians who are committed to high ethical standards, regardless of their political affiliation, should strive to make her promise a reality.