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Dirty Hands, Dirty Politicians

October 6, 2010

One line that stood out to me in Walzer’s “The Problem of Dirty Hands” is the question as to whether or not one can govern innocently (p. 161). Do all political actions of authoritative figures have to end in dirtied hands? Do all politics have to be corrupt? It concerns me that, not only is this question often proven to be true, but Walzer also says that “nor do most of us believe that those who govern us are innocent” (p. 161). Now, I’m from the lovely city of Chicago, and we’re known for our corrupt politics (what’s up, Blagojevich?), so I’m accustomed to politics and corruption strolling along hand in hand. It’s truly alarming that not only do I have difficulty separating politics and corruption, but Walzer seems to believe that many others do, too. My mother warns me not to get involved in politics because she thinks that most of the time politicians are sneaky, devious, and hand out/receive bribes left and right. From what it seems, Walzer won’t be one to prove my mother wrong! Walzer writes of how politicians not only cater to our interests, but they act on our behalf (p. 162). If politicians are corrupt, and they’re acting on our behalf…then, well, you do the math. (Politicians = corrupt, politicians = acting on behalf of the people, the people = corrupt)

Machiavelli famously said that it’s better for rulers to be feared rather than loved. Walzer says that politicians have “dirty hands”. MLK says that some laws are made to be broken. Hobbes says that sovereign figures are expected to be just…but who’s to take action when they act unjustly? Aren’t they the ones wielding the sword on the cover drawing of The Leviathan?

When will politics get a good name? Don’t get me wrong, politicians and public leaders do noble, admirable, and beneficial things day in and day out and these actions do not go unnoticed, but why aren’t articles being written about the innocence of politics? Why must politics be viewed in a negative light? I’m waiting for the day when no dirt can be dug up about backhanded politics, and Chicago is known for something other than it’s corrupt politics (maybe then the Cubs will finally win the World Series).

5 Comments
  1. Zac Hiller permalink
    October 6, 2010 6:12 PM

    I agree with you kathbail on dirty politics and to answer your question “when will politics get a good name?”, it will never happen. Corruption in government has gone on forever and it is how politicians get ahead of each other. In such a cut-throat environment, politicians need to do whatever they can to get reelected. Otherwise its back to normal society. When it comes to government and politicians, as Machiavelli once said, “the end justifies the means.”

  2. Trevor Cookler permalink
    October 6, 2010 8:34 PM

    I completely agree with this post as well as the first comment. From a philosophical standpoint it is much better to do a lot wrong in one chunk to society and work back up their morale rather than shadily creep behind the public and do devious acts that many politicians commit. Think about it – if Obama every few weeks does something to outrage the public then he will be looked down upon. If he must do something considered “bad” in order to get positive means, much like Machiavellian thought, then it is better to put all evil acts together and be “good” in the eyes of the people from then on. But this is in an idealistic world. There are dirty hands throughout politics and your mother is probably right to stay out of it – that is unless you’re trying to change the system (and if so, good look my friend). Finally, I agree with the fact that if politicians are dirty, and and we know they are dirty, doesn’t that make us as the American people dirty? Scary to think about, but its true. Very insightful post.

  3. rhampton27 permalink
    October 6, 2010 8:37 PM

    I think that politics will always be corrupt. In politics there are only a few positions available, and many people competing for them, therefore only the best may win. To become the best, politicians have to play dirty by making themselves look better and their opponents worse. This is similar to the point that professor LaVaque-Manty brought up in lecture today about law students. They are in a constant state of war with each other because each person wants to be the most successful. This state of war for politicians is vicious and never-ending because they cannot contract to reach agreement. They have their own self-interest to promote and therefore will use any means necessary.

  4. jungle12 permalink
    October 6, 2010 10:53 PM

    I feel that politics and politicians will always have a bad reputation. Because there is always constant competition among the different parties, politicians will dirty their hands to get their way; and when they finally obtain power they never live up to the public’s expectations. This is in fact always the case. However, I agree with kathbail that “Politicians = corrupt, politicians = acting on behalf of the people, the people = corrupt”. So with that in mind I feel that we as the people blame the politicians too much. Because the general public understands that they elect politicians to carry out their beliefs and opinions in society they put too much pressure on the politician, and if their politician fail or do not live up to their expectation than the politician will receive lots of hate. So yes on the outside politicians are evil dirty people but in spite of that we are just as evil and dirty.

  5. rachelmich permalink
    October 6, 2010 11:34 PM

    I was struck by the same passages from the Walzer article. Although there may be a point in saying that politicians must play the game and get dirty hands in the process, I thought that the whole thing was rather cynical. Politicians may have to do things that they don’t want to do and may have to hurt people that they don’t want to hurt, but Walzer makes the case that not a single politician can succeed without getting dirty hands. Call me idealistic, but I believe that there are people in this world who truly have pure intentions and are capable of winning an election based on their merits and integrity without belittling or bashing their opponents.

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