Friday, December 12, 2008

Political Corruption and Party Affiliation

Back during the election I complained about the Democratic campaign claim that one reason for people to vote for Democrats instead of Republicans is that Republicans are corrupt. Indeed, there was, at the time, a string of news stories in which politicians were caught in various corruption scandals and, in a vast majority of the cases, the corrupt politician was a Republican.

I objective at the time that this had nothing to do with Democrats being more virtuous than Republicans. Rather, it was because Republicans had something to sell, and the Democrats did not. Republicans controlled all three branches of the federal government. They controlled the political agenda. Why would any person interested in buying favor in Washington approach a Democrat?

On that model, what we can expect to see for the next two to four years is a shift. Now, we will see Democrats caught in a series of corruption scandals, while Republicans acquire this illusion of virtue based on nothing but the fact that now Republicans have nothing to sell. Why would any person interested in buying favor in Washington approach a Republican?

Then, we will hear in four years' time, an argument from the Republicans that we need "change". We need to throw out the corrupt legislators (Democrats) and replace them with members of the party that have not experienced much corruption for the past four years (Republicans). If the Republicans should gain power, then they pendulum will swing in the other directions, where Democrats once again claim virtue over and above corrupt Republicans.

And so forth.

As it turns out, this form of reasoning is actually the essence of bigotry. There is no moral difference between the assertion, "That Republican did something bad; therefore, we should not have any Republicans in positions of power," and the assertion, "That black person did something bad; therefore, we should not have any black person in positions of power."

It should be shocking, the number of people who recognize how unfair it is for others to say, "That Democrat did something wrong; so all Democrats should be viewed as corrupt," become absolutely giddy at the chance to say, "That Republican did something wrong; so all Republicans should be viewed as corrupt." This is really pure tribalism. Justice and truth are thrown away for the sake of promoting one's own tribe over a competing trible. This is not the behavior of a moral person.

When the Democrats and Republicans make their respective arguments, they are promoting bigotry. They are promoting the idea that it is morally legitimate to "spread the guilt" that we see in one member of a group throughout the whole group – even those who have not done anything wrong.

A policy of fighting bigotry means condemning the practice of spreading the guilt of a few across whole groups – many of which are innocent. It means condemning the practice of blaming all Republicans for the corruption of some Republicans, and of condemning the practice of blaming all Democrats for the crimes of a particular Democrat.


Anonymous said...

If there were fewer corruption scandals during the Clinton administration than the Bush administration, does that lend support to the hypothesis that there will be less corruption in a future Democratic administration than a future Republican Administration?

Martin Freedman said...

Doug S.

That is a good question. Is there empirical evidence of different levels of corruption between democrats and republicans in power? I do not know the answer to that and if answers exist they are must be open to critical examination and debate. It may well be a fact that there is a statistically significant difference between the two but one would then have to ask does this historical analysis still apply and what are the underlying causes of such a hypothesized (for now) difference?

However I think Alonzo's implicit point was that neither party's supporters do this but rather use fallacious reasoning such as selective memory, double standards and confirmation bias in supporting their claims?