Do Politicians Have a Right to be Morally Corrupt?
As I read “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands,” I found myself wondering if politicians really do have a right to have a different, more lenient, moral compass than us everyday American citizens. Walzner points out that politicians represent us—they speak for us, tax us, and take risks for us. With this responsibility comes a lot of power—do we want a good man to lead us or do we want a man who will do wrong in order for us to succeed and live the life we want to live?
Walzner says, “it is easy to get one’s hands dirty in politics, and it is even right to do so” (174). Yet, on the other hand, he also says, “if it is right to break the rule in some hard case, after conscientiously worrying about it, the man who acts…may properly feel pride in his achievement” (170). So, if I interpret Walzner correctly, he is saying that it is totally fine to do wrong as a politician only if that specific politician thinks what he is doing is wrong, yet still continues. I’m not sure if I completely agree with that statement. Someone cannot justify something morally wrong they are doing by just saying, “hey, you know what, I thought about it and I know what I’m doing is wrong…but after long consideration and struggle I decided it needed to be done.” Whether one is a politician or not, one cannot feel pride on an action they take just because they deliberated it for a long time. Walzner also quotes The Discourses and says, “when the act accuses, the result excuses” (175). Walzner obviously has been taking notes from Machiavelli and agreeing with many of his ideals. This quote is basically saying that a politician’s deceit and wrongdoings are justified if the good that comes out of his actions outweigh the bad; one can be immoral if there is good to come out of it.
A clear example of this ideal can be seen with former President Bush and his choice to accept waterboarding as a means of torturing Iraqi prisoners. When deciding whether to use this horrible torture method, Bush said, “I thought about my meeting with Danny Pearl’s widow, who was pregnant with his son when he was murdered. I thought about the 2,971 people stolen from their families by al Qaeda on 9/11. And I thought about my duty to protect my country from another act of terror.” Bush clearly thought that the good that came out of torturing prisoners outweighed the horror of the terrible act. Yes, waterboarding can be seen as morally corrupt, but is it worth it if they obtain information from the torture method and save thousands of American lives? Was Bush right to give a go to this horrendous act?
Both Machiavelli and Walzner agree that a good leader doesn’t always choose the “morally correct” path. Walzner makes a good point: good politicians don’t just do bad things, they do bad things well. In that case—is it acceptable for politicians to be, in some cases, morally corrupt?