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The Slippery Slope In Politics

Wednesday, Jul. 27, 2011

I spoke with a reporter recently who was writing about gifts elected officials were taking but not disclosing. More troubling, many of the officeholders said they “couldn’t remember” whether or not they had gone to the Super Bowl courtesy of a major business interest. How could this be?

It’s difficult to explain the “selective memory” excuse, since tickets to major sporting events, Broadway shows, and golf excursions at exclusive country clubs are not only memorable, but out of the reach of most of the public. However, there is is a theory about how officeholders get themselves into trouble: they step onto the “slippery slope.”

The simplest definition in the dictionary for this phenomenon is “dangerous situation.” In politics, the slippery slope generally refers to an ethical decision that starts with no consequences, but subsequent decisions make it more difficult to discern right from wrong. Without knowing it, the individual has “crossed the line” and done something unethical. The slope is especially slippery when gifts or special privileges are involved.

A common excuse for unethical behavior is “everyone else is doing it.” Another way to explain this behavior is to claim, “it’s not that bad.” This always leaves me wondering what would be bad? My personal favorite is the officeholder who is insulted by an ethics complaint, protesting, “I cannot be bought off by…(a round of golf, playoff tickets--you fill in the blank).

Not all the blame rests with the public officials. After all, they are just accepting a gift or benefit that has been offered by a lobbyist, special interest group, or grateful citizen.

It may not be easy to resist to these temptations, but nobody ever said being in public life would be easy.

Tags: freebies, gifts, slippery slope, Super Bowl tickets

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