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Katy Grimes

Ethics and government: Is it possible?

Ethics, even in politics, is based on adherence to moral principles. Honesty, integrity, loyalty, fairness, respect for others, lawfulness, pursuit of excellence and accountability, are principles.

G. K. Chesterton explained why: “Morality is always terribly complicated – to a man who has lost all his principles.”

The fundamental purpose of the American project was and still is individual freedom.

While many American freedoms have been eroded, we still hold the sanctity of the individual sacred in America. Americans believe that man is inherently free, whether a gift from God, or a fact of nature.

However, with freedoms and individual liberties increasingly plundered, many ask what the proper role of government is, as well as the proper role of the politician.

Especially in California, suffering under the cloud of recent scandals in the State Senate, ethics, and the proper role of government is more than ever, being called into question.

California: stranger than fiction

Ethics violations aren’t a new phenomenon in politics.

Currently Senators Ron Calderon, D-Montbello, and Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, are both under indictment by the FBI: Calderon for bribery, and Yee for federal weapons charges. Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood has state convictions for perjury and voter fraud.

California, as with every other state, has a long list of lawmakers who breached the public trust.

Is Ethics in politics possible?

Ethics is a branch of philosophy concerned with moral duties and human behavior, with regard to both ends and means.

Government is the regulation of public affairs.

Politics is the means by which people determine whose views of government will prevail.

“Politics is the realm in which we attempt to make real some of our highest aspirations: our desire for political freedom, our longing for justice, our hope for peace and security,” according to Kings College. “At the same time, politics is laced with individuals and groups seeking their selfish interests at the expense of others.”

Yet that doesn’t square with those who want to improve the ethical quality of government; they need to acknowledge the limited role of laws and the more important role of character and commitment.

But increasingly, the goal of seeking to improve the ethical quality of government, is relegated to the back burner.

The point of principles — Principles are certain

The California State Legislature begins every session, in both houses, with prayer, and the Pledge of Allegiance.

“If there is one thing the modern secular mind claims to be certain about regarding morality, it is that no one can really be certain about morality,” the Knights of Columbus point out. “If there is any one thing about religious believers that is utterly incomprehensible to most of the media, public education, and journalism today, it is the fact that believers claim they can know what is really, truly, good and evil – in other words, moral principles. Typically modern people always say of morality that it is ‘a complex issue.’”

Political science scholars describe government as a social, implied ethical compact, designed to unite the people, govern the people, and protect the freedoms of the people. This compact involves a mutual agreement on rights, obligations, and expectations.

However, this doesn’t resemble much of today’s government.

It is the government official’s responsibility to help the people live together peacefully. And, as important, it is the people’s responsibility to get informed on issues, and voice their desires, as well as their concerns.

How politicians fit in

The guiding force of many lawmakers is “the right to be free from fear in our homes, on our streets, and in our communities,” as U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh said in 1991, to the National Newspaper Association’s Government Affairs Conference.

But if the purpose of government is to control, nothing can be denied it.

A government whose purpose is to coerce cannot be one based on the premise of the sanctity of individual freedom.

A government whose premise is the sanctity of individual freedom must have as its purpose the protection of that freedom. It exists for the purpose of ensuring that citizens, in the exercise of their inherent freedom, do not impinge on the rights of others to fully exercise their own. It exists to prevent individuals from taking the lives of others; stealing things belonging to others; physically harming others; preventing others from fully engaging their legitimate autonomy and choices, according to John Howard, an attorney specializing in First, Second and Tenth Amendment issues.

“A government whose purpose is to protect rather than to coerce is one that cannot, itself, do to individual citizens what other individuals may not,” said Howard. “It cannot allow itself to become the instrument of individual oppression or the interests of the few. It cannot take the fruits of the labor of individual citizens for its enrichment or for the enrichment of others. It cannot, without cause, take the lives of citizens.”

“A government whose purpose is to coerce cannot be one based on the premise of the sanctity of individual freedom. A government whose premise is the sanctity of individual freedom must have as its purpose the protection of that freedom.”

Where have we gone wrong? Howard adds, “Now, as never before, we must be about its business.”

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