Politicians and morals

Thor Pedersen, the danish minister of finance, is accused of owning a farm without living on it, even though danish law requires him to. He is being attacked relentlessly by both the opposition and the media. He’s admitted to breaking the law, and promised not to do it anymore.

Thor Pedersens guilt or innocence aside, there’s one question you have to ask yourself.

I know that we consistently require a higher moral standard from our politicians than we do from the general populace, but why should this be so? The argument, of course, goes that since politicians are our leaders, they need to set a good example, and be above reproach. The best example is of course Bill Clinton and the whole Lewinsky debacle; millions of people have done what he did (and lots worse), but because he was the president, it was somehow worse when he did it. In Denmark, just remember how much flack Pia Gjellerup caught for driving her bicycle without lights on it, when she was minister of justice.

I would like to challenge this assumption, that a higher standard of morals applies to our politicians. To me, the idea that since they are role models, they should “behave”, suggests a shifting of responsibility from us to them. But my behaviour is (and always will be) my own responsibility. Politicians are not our role models; I certainly don’t model my behaviour on any politician.

Being a politician should be a job like any other, and I don’t think that anyone would suggest e.g. firing a person from their (non-political) job over trespasses on the order of those described here.

Ask yourself this: What good is achieved by imposing a higher moral standard on politicians than on anybody else? I honestly don’t think we NEED them to be better than us. We need them to be exactly as law-abiding and honest as we are.

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