Printer Friendly Page Ethical Politics ~ #24

Ethical Politics ~ #24

By Alan F. Kay, PhD
2003, (fair use with attribution and copy to authors)
July, 15, 2003


Do you agree or disagree with this statement:
"I prefer that the politicians I vote for hold higher and more evolved moral and ethical values than I do."

Because no politician would pay for it, no commercial pollster would ask the public such a question. But, using first-rate methodology and public-interest polls, Alex Kochkin of the Fund for Global Awakening did. What he found was: agree 64%; disagree 25%; neutral 11%; and that startling result was backed up by much other supportive data.

The mainstream media, and American elitist culture too, refuse to recognize that "ordinary people" harbor such ideals as Kochkin found. When the underlying motive of someone appears in a mainstream media news story, the motive is money or money-measured power. Other motives are thought suspect or naive. Rare exceptions are attributed to abnormal people like saints, geniuses, and schizophrenics.

Certain precise words are missing from modern language to help bury exactly who it is that is paying for dubious or asocial activities. Take the word "sponsor". A sponsor of a TV program is the one who is paying for advertising, and company sponsors don't mind that word But who paid for what it takes to get a specific item in the TV, radio or print media is often unknown. Player names, even sponsor names may be given, but who really pays is not made clear. "Donor", considered a complementary word, implies the donation is a gift and does not cover the most-needed situations. A good word to cover all cases is "funder", the person who funds. But that word is so seldom used it is not to be found in a dictionary and curiously is not recognized by Microsoft's spell-check.

For example, who pays for President George W. Bush's polls? A large amount of poll data and findings come in from "friends," enough to make the White House the largest consumer of poll findings in the country. But clarity or transparency about these funders is confused by the assertion of all presidents that they do not want government by polling and particularly reinforced by Bush's attitude that, being a successful leader, he has no need for polling.

A staple of marketplace news stories, whether TV, radio, or print, is the "business deal", always reported as positive for at least one of the wheeler-dealers, even if its effects on those who did not participate in putting together the deal may be questionable and sometimes disastrous. More often than we would like to believe, both "questionable" and "disastrous" are accurate descriptions of the effects of business deals on customers, suppliers, shareholders, creditors, employees, the environment, and/or the community. If you've forgotten about this, think Enron, World-Com, Merrill Lynch, Citibank, Tyco, etc.

In daily business news reports, the story of say, falling prices for Ford car purchasers is presented as good news, while falling prices for purchase of Ford stock is bad news. In any given day, those buying either Ford cars or Ford stock are a tiny percentage of the public, less than 1%. Justification for thinking stock prices "going up is good", while product prices "going up is bad" (products "going down is good"), is the assertion of economists that buying stock "helps the whole economy." Close examination shows this means nothing more than "helps the sellers." It may help the majority, but seldom "the whole economy". This stark contrast of attitudes is dramatized by the fact that many big sellers of stock constitute an extremely wealthy, tiny minority.

Another undefined and abused word is "ethical". The s--- hits the fan when people who have done well in life go one step too far. Many early steps are conflicts-of-interest that successful people are very good at handling deftly. This comes about by experiences from childhood on. When we are small, parents and teachers tell us: "Go to sleep now." "Be an angel and wash your hands." "Don't play with your food." "If you're good, Santa will bring it." "Put your books back on the shelf." Playmates and siblings too create conflicts, "I'll knock your block off, but don't dare touch me." Often we are conflicted. We don't want to do some of these things. We may reluctantly obey. We may cry, fight, threaten, or give in with a laugh. Others develop reactions to our behaviors. One way or another, over the years, some of us learn to handle these conflicts so well that we pass through many conflicts-of-interest without any noticeable negative reaction from others. Ethics remain a lip-service game, not rules to take seriously. A transition at some point in our lives from the first view of ethics to the second needs to occur, especially for those who must handle dozens of conflicts daily like top level politicians.

Some of them are caught. Think Bill Clinton parrying questions on his sex life; Newt Gingrich getting free services leading to ethics committee censure and resignation; Trent Lott, at the peak of his power, making a casual remark so racist he must resign as a committee chair. Politicians like these becomes so good at handling conflicts-of-interest, they sometimes become oblivious to the possibility that problems may strike them they cannot handle. Unfortunately, that is bad for the rest of us. When the opposite occurs (no downfall), we may still not be better off. Such politicians may still hurt numerous others and never pay a price for it.

Far worse is that politicians cannot believe that most people think of themselves as very ethical and still want leaders more ethical than themselves. Accepting that globally would revolutionize politics, even bring peace and love to the world. Imagine that!

Public-interest polling proves its potential value yet again.



>>> 2.5  The Polling Critic

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