Ethics Moment: Why we are so disgruntled with Congress

November 29, 2011

Last year political commentator and talk show satirist, P.J. O’Rourke, published a booked entitled, Don’t Vote! It Just Encourages the Bastards! Although the title is a tired cliché, recent polls by CBS and the New York Times suggest that O’Rourke’s title perfectly captures the sentiment of the American public.

According to CBS, the New York Times, and NPR, the job approval rating of Congress has fallen to an all time low of 9 percent, and the ranks of bipartisan Congressional haters seem to be growing.

The basis for this discomfort is elemental: People are losing confidence in Congress and no longer trust their judgment or ability to resolve both the practical and the complex problems facing the nation.

Pundits and commentators on both sides of the aisle are accusing Congress of creating and hiding behind an ideological divide that is not open to rational debate, objective critique, or compromise. The public is becoming acutely aware that this ideological divide has resulted in stalemate and stasis.

As far as I’m concerned, the situation is not only embarrassing, but it is bordering on irresponsible and unethical behavior by all involved.

Instead of a philosophical debate on how to best address the needs of good government, the debate has broken down to narcissistic posturing on both sides. Instead of rational argumentation, the confrontation has become fanatically theological.

One side yells: “This I believe”. The other side replies: “This I believe”. Both sides keep chanting their “acts of faith” at each other, but neither side is open to serious conversation or compromise.

“We need more government input and expenditure,” cries one side. “We need less government and more of the marketplace,” the other replies.

Each party’s faith-based political ideology blinds them to the real needs and the real issues facing the people that they serve. Both parties have gotten lost in their own rhetoric and they have forgotten their real job: a functioning government “by and for the people”.

Let me quickly reference two very different contemporary politicians on the subject of governance and compromise.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, former governor of California once said: “Voters want a system where representatives put what is best ahead of extreme partisan politics”.

And Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York has said: “We must stop prioritizing incumbency and partisan interest over democratic representation.

I think that the fundamental message of these two statements is clear - and at the very heart of a working democracy: Without ethical compromise, we risk civil default and civic failure.


Al Gini is a professor of business ethics and chair of the department of management at Loyola University Chicago. He is also the co-founder and associate editor of Business Ethics Quarterly, and the author of several books, including My Job, My Self, the Importance of Being Lazy, and Seeking the Truth of Things: Confessions of a (catholic) Philosopher.

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