Integrity and Politics
By: Celia Murray
Integrity, defined as a steadfast adherence to a strict moral code or ethical code, is a rare virtue. It is, perhaps, particularly rare in politics. I’ve no doubt that we, as citizens, desire integrity in our elected leaders, even if we don’t always get it. But, we don’t demand and don’t seem to expect our leaders to insist upon integrity in their advisors or in the cadre of professional pundits, party leaders and political action committee members who make up the face of politics in this country. To possess integrity is the work of a lifetime and is never perfectly achieved. No where is it more difficult to attain or hold on to personal integrity than in the world of politics. Significant personal integrity appears rare in public life, perhaps since political power holds a great attraction for those persons who are easily swayed by inordinate desires, passions and temptations.
In politics, the premium on winning is so high that it can and often does override one’s sense of what is right and wrong. Too often, the positions of the pundits and others (and yes, even some elected officials) are inspired not by thoughtful reflection, personal conviction, or in-depth study, but by the latest polls, focus groups, or media consultant’s opinion. Supporters of a cause or candidate get swept up in an almost mesmeric state and become so identified with their leader, or with their group and its “groupthink,” that they lose their individual ability to see and perceive the “rightness” of what’s going on. The fear of losing overcomes one’s sense of fairness and honesty. Win at any costs. The ends justify the means. As a result, the views of one’s opponents are subjected to distortion, mischaracterization, perversion, and misinterpretation. The over-riding concern becomes shouting down one’s opponent and gaining some perceived advantage, even if doing so requires patent dishonesty. All too often, rather than engage in serious debate, the energy is put into an attempt to muddy the waters, inflame passions and sway public opinion. After all, sometimes the mud will stick, veracity notwithstanding. Do we have to accept that such conduct is an inevitable part of the rough and tumble world of politics? I suggest that we do not – that we can insist upon at least the same level of integrity from those in the world of politics as we do from our auto mechanics. We can and should insist upon serious and honest political debate, which is both necessary and healthy, without the distractions of twisted facts, personal attacks and spurious claims. We must all acknowledge that others have a right to hold opinions which differ from our own. We should insist that, rather than engage in the politics of destruction, those in the political arena address their opponents with honest, coherent, and cogent counter-arguments. Doing so can only serve to elevate the level of personal integrity in each of us.
Celia Murray is a member of the Morgan County Democratic Party.