Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Age Of Ethical Flexibility

People in politics have a funny idea of right and wrong. If my side does it, it's right. If the other side does it, it's wrong.

In Wisconsin there used to be a bipartisan consensus on – and adherence to – high ethical standards in politics and government. No more. A cancerous form of moral relativism has now taken hold across the political spectrum.

We have a Supreme Court justice who has ignored clearcut ethical standards, first in defending himself (ironically enough) against ethics charges and then in close to a dozen cases that have come before him on the high court. When the Democracy Campaign filed complaints against him alleging judicial misconduct, we were immediately accused by those on his side of the fence of being motivated by partisanship. Never mind the position of Supreme Court justice is officially nonpartisan.

We have filed complaints against Scott Walker. And Jim Doyle, on multiple occasions. And against both major state parties. And against legislators from both parties. And every time, we have been accused by people on one side of acting out of a desire to help the other side.

The other night I ran into a reporter for the state's largest newspaper, and he told me readers rip him a new one every time he reports on death threats received by public officials. When police are alerted to a threat against a Republican, one group of readers howl that it clearly was fake or trumped up or otherwise unworthy of coverage. When a Democrat is threatened, another group of readers say the same thing.

Really? I mean, for real? What a pathetic commentary on what ethics have come to in the political arena. Serious transgressions are readily forgiven or overlooked altogether if it's my side at fault, but if the other side twitches that's another matter. Throw the book at 'em!

Is it too much to ask that all public officials, regardless of political affiliation, be held to a consistent standard when it comes to ethics?

Today, apparently it is.

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