Thursday, July 31, 2008

The virtue of shame

For those of you unaware, Sen. Ted Stevens has been indicted. A politician being indicted should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever paid any attention whatsoever to the political environment of any culture, at any time, in any place on the planet. It happens all the time.

What is more interesting is that he didn't immediately resign. Of course, neither did Larry Craig, David Vitter, or rep. William Jefferson just to name a few off the top of my head. Why is it that they didn't resign? For the most part, their guilt has been obvious and embarrassing and yet they still cling desperately and shamelessly to their offices in a Clintonesque ritual of ridiculous explanations, semantic games, and brazen denials.

You could lament that our society has become more forgiving of moral and occasionally criminal lapses. You could also point out that the political process has become criminalized as each party spends countless man hours investigating the other. Of course, you could also add that our politicians have simply grown more cunning and more shameless and in our sound-bite culture they know that we can't stay mad enough, long enough to ensure their removal from office and so they don't even really worry about it. To me though, it is symptomatic of something much more terrifying, a descent into authoritarianism.

When politicians truly believe that they can be held accountable to the people, then they tend to act accordingly which includes resigning rather than being forced from office. Why? Because the people will resent you a lot less if you leave willingly rather than being dragged tooth and nail. You might then be able to make a comeback in another arena or at a later date. We've seen it a million times. However, when a politician has no fear of the wrath of his constituents then his actions are bold, brazen, and shameless. He will lie directly and boldly to the people making little effort to make his lie believable or even plausible. He doesn't have too. The people, knowing that they are powerless, will be complicit in this farce. They will pretend to believe it and he will pretend that they aren't pretending. That is why Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-il, Robert Mugabe, etc. have elections.

Our politicians have no fear thanks to amoeba-shaped districts which ensure one-party domination and party-machines which prize ideological loyalty so greatly that they will overlook nearly anything else, criminal and immoral conduct included. This fearlessness leads to boldness which leads to corruption. A politician without fear of the people is a tyrant in nature if not in name. Shamelessness from elected officials is not only embarrassing to the people, it is one of the primary characteristics of an authoritarian government.

Shame is a good thing for politicians to have. It means that they still respect and fear the judgement of the people. It means that they still serve the people. When they no longer fear you then your liberty is at risk and when they no longer pretend to fear you then your liberty is already gone.

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