Do All Politicians Lie and Cheat?


Newspapers in France have scrupulously covered the trial of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy who was found guilty of corruption and influence-peddling by a court in Paris and sentenced to prison. The United States press is continually reporting on former President Donald Trump’s legal difficulties, which include calls to try to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia as well as investigations into his tax returns and bank fraud by the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. The local Geneva newspapers can’t get enough of the trial of Conseiller d’Etat Pierre Maudet for lying about who paid for his personal/public trip to Abu Dhabi with his family. And we could easily add the media frenzy in the U.S. in the unravelling revelations of misdeeds by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

In discussing the various ethical implications of these scandals with a left-wing Geneva politician, I was startled when he declared: “All politicians lie and cheat.” Really? He seem to accept that lying and cheating were normal parts of political life. That was his perspective, after many years as a prominent Socialist parliamentarian. 
Is he right? What should we expect from those we democratically elect? Shouldn’t we hold them to the highest ethical standards? After all, they are our representatives, duly chosen by us to promote the common good. Or, should we ignore the legal problems of Sarkozy, Trump and Maudet and say; “They’re just normal politicians.”
The eminent political philosopher Michael Walzer wrote a seminal article on this subject – “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands.” Walzer begins from the question of “the relative ease or difficulty - or impossibility - of living a moral life” in this world. Walzer is interested in the specific dilemma of the politician’s “living a moral life.”
In presenting the politician’s dilemma Walzer quotes a character in a play by Jean Paul Sartre: "I have dirty hands right up to the elbows. I've plunged them in filth and blood. Do you think you can govern innocently?"  Walzer’s answer to the character’s question is a categorical “no”. “I don't think I could govern innocently,” Walzer replies, “nor do most of us believe that those who govern us are innocent.”
Walzer’s position in defending the dirty hands of politicians has several parts. First, the politician must make certain promises to get elected. “Hustling and lying are necessary because power and glory are so desirable - that is, so widely desired,” he argues. “And so the men who act for us and in our name are necessarily hustlers and liars.” For Walzer, those who seek office may say they want to serve for the general good, but that goal cannot exclude the element of personal glory. 
Second, the politician is different from you and me. He or she must have confidence in their judgments more than we do. After all, that is why they were elected. Walzer believes that “The politician has, or pretends to have, a kind of confidence in his own judgment that the rest of us know to be presumptuous in any man.” So, we should not be surprised by the politician’s arrogance. Nor should we elect someone who does not show a special level of self-confidence.
In Walzer’s world, there are choices between an individual’s sense of right and wrong and working for the general good. Politicians are confronted with a world of situational choices. For Walzer, elected officials “have not won, after all, because they were good, or not only because of that,” he presumes, “but also because they were not good. No one succeeds in politics without getting his hands dirty.”
The politician is a tragic hero, one who is doomed to do “bad things,” but to do them well in the general interest. Walzer quotes Hamlet: "I must be cruel only to be kind." And this kindness has its rewards. When the politician succeeds in the world of dirty hands, he or she is praised for the success. But the success came at the price of getting dirty hands. There is no other way to succeed in politics, hence the tragic nature of the moral politician once entering the immoral political world.
But Sarkozy, Trump and Maudet have more than moral dilemmas. They are not tragic heroes. Au contraire. They have criminal cases against them that are well beyond the inherent tensions in political life. Sarkozy and Maudet have been convicted, Trump will certainly be held criminally libel in the future. Beyond Walzer’s tragic hero who enters the world of politics to do good for the general public, Sarkozy, Trump and Maudet have betrayed the confidence of the electorate. They have more than a moral dilemma. 
Do all politicians lie and cheat? Probably yes in the moral sense. But the three examples cited go beyond the inherent moral tensions of everyday politics. It may be that all politicians lie and cheat, but they don’t have to be criminals. Sarkozy, Trump and Maudet have more than dirty hands. 




Lien permanent 7 commentaires


  • Oui, les mensonges commencent avant même d'être élu avec des promesses intenables destinées à séduire.
    Puis ils continuent, par omission, en cachant tout ce qui pourrait faire polémique.
    Enfin, lorsque l'élu atteint le graal d'un exécutif, il a du faire la preuve qu'il sera collégial, sous entendu qu'il sera prêt à sacrifier sa conscience.
    Lorsqu'on a compris que l'art politique consiste essentiellement à mentir en permanence on peut commencer à s'interroger sur la nécessiter d'élire un parlement qui suit des logiques partisanes et électorales alors que la technologie nous permettrait déjà aujourd'hui de s'en passer grâce à la blockchain et la démocratie liquide qui serait une véritable démocratie directe.
    Enfin, comparer un ministre en charge du développement économique qui se rend dans les Emirats avec quelques proches et qui est condamné pour avoir accepté un avantage alors qu'il n'en a probablement rien à cirer de la F1, à un Nicolas Sarkozy ou un Donald Trump qui doivent être des pros de ce genre de pratiques, c'est un pas que je ne ferais pas.

  • "Do all politicians lie ?" Absolutely, if only by omission.

    If you go into politics you vow to conform to the rules of the political and economic structure in place, which means you are not going to change anything fundamentally.

    In order to get elected however you have to promise your voters that you will in fact "change things", although you know perfectly well that it's impossible.

    Switzerland is probably one of the few democracies where real change could actually take place, not by politicians but by its people through a massive use of initiatives and referendums. Trouble is, the swiss don't vote.

  • "Trouble is, the swiss don't vote."

    Jeune adulte, je ne votais pas. Je ressentais déjà confusément l'inutilité de participer à cette farce.
    Puis, lorsque j'ai rencontré la mère de mes filles vers 40 ans, elle a attiré mon attention sur la chance que nous avions de pouvoir nous exprimer sur tout et rien et sur le caractère unique et exceptionnel de ce pouvoir. Je m'y suis donc mis avec sérieux. A tel point d'ailleurs que, souvent, je ne savais trop que voter tant les arguments des deux camps sont défendables. Il me fallait au moins un 60% pour me prononcer, sinon je laissais blanc.
    Puis j'ai compris comment fonctionne vraiment la démocratie dans notre pays avec des médias inféodés aux puissants, des lois contournées, interprétées, des scrutins annulés et l'impossibilité croissante de se faire une idée objective sur quelque sujet que ce soit si nous ne sommes pas un spécialiste du domaine concerné.
    C'est pourquoi j'en appelle aujourd'hui à la démocratie liquide qui permet de donner sa voix à un représentant de confiance qui maîtrise le sujet et non pas un chèque en blanc à un parlementaire qui répond à des logiques partisanes à mille lieues de mes intérêts et mes convictions.

  • Interestingly, you don't say a word about Joe Biden's lies. Will it be in Part 2, together with H. Clinton and Obama's collection of lies about, among other things, the so-called collusion with Russia, which was proven to be hoax, or are you simply liying by omission?

  • Interesting points made in this article, but they all assume we need to accept political systems "as they stand today". The swiss political system is probably the best available, and is a living proof many other countries could improve their current political process.

    The real issue with representative politics is clearly outlined in the article when it states “Hustling and lying are necessary because power and glory are so desirable", ... “And so the men who act for us and in our name are necessarily hustlers and liars.”. How could we improve upon this situation?

    Beyond adopting a "swiss-like" direct democracy system, countries could improve by defining a set of criteria for a person to be eligible (e.g. lack of criminal record, university education, minimum and maximum age, ...). Once this pool of "eligible people" was defined, individuals could express their interest for various political positions, and be picked randomly (through a lottery-like process). This would avoid people "hustling and lying" to be elected, and would also ensure we return to the "average" personality as far as ambition and greed are concerned (better than the current profile of people running for politics).

    Another way the swiss system (and others therefore) could be improved would be to replace the legislative power by competent groups of citizens that can prove they don't bear any conflict of interest on the subject matters discussed. More effective may simply be to forbid any conflict of interest amongst elected members of the legislative power, and to render all lobbying illegal.

  • @P.S.

    Faut pas trop demander à M. Warner! Il est démocrate!

    À propos de mensonges:

    « Pressions » de Trump sur un enquêteur en Géorgie : Le Washington Post avoue avoir menti
    Publié par Magali Marc le 17 mars 2021

    Le 15 mars, le Washington Post a admis dans un tout petit paragraphe annexé à un article majeur, que l’essentiel de cet article était un mensonge basé sur de fausses citations.
    Le 9 janvier, ce journal a publié l’article dans lequel le Président Trump est accusé par une source anonyme d’avoir fait pression sur un enquêteur électoral de Géorgie lors d’un appel téléphonique, en décembre, afin d’obtenir qu’elle invente de fausses preuves susceptibles de changer en sa faveur les résultats de l’élection présidentielle en Géorgie. On sait maintenant que c’est le bureau du secrétaire d’État, Brad Raffensberger, qui a secrètement enregistré l’appel téléphonique du Président Trump, puis a menti à ce sujet au Washington Post.

    Pour les lecteurs de Dreuz, j’ai traduit l’article d’Andrea Widburg, paru sur le site d’American Thinker, le 16 mars.

    Le Washington Post a avoué un très gros mensonge

    Lundi (le 15 mars), les conservateurs ont été outrés lorsque le Washington Post, dans un tout petit paragraphe annexé à un article majeur de janvier, a admis que l’essentiel de l’article était un mensonge basé sur de fausses citations.
    Les Républicains et les autres conservateurs américains devraient trouver le moyen de faire payer aux médias de masse leur dévotion au Parti Démocrate et leur volonté répétée d’abandonner toute considération éthique quand ils sont prêts à diffamer ceux qui osent s’opposer aux Démocrates.

    En ce moment, l’indignation des conservateurs, même si elle montre que nous sommes des personnes respectueuses de l’éthique, ne sert à rien.

    Reproduction autorisée avec la mention suivante : © Traduction de Magali Marc (@magalimarc15) pour

    Source :

  • The individuals cited here could provide enough material for a book on legal/ethical violations, public opinion, skilled defense lawyers and politics. Using US guidelines, Maudet could have arranged his trip as Swiss interest in multi billion dollars industryFormula 1, auto racing still to be outlawed as too dangerous, UAE connection to Israel, oil, US etc etc.
    If Sarkozy had presented a better personal image, he might have had better luck. As was pointed out by other commenters, moreover, omission or later evidence, often causes the original premiss to be invalid. The media is quick to grab unproven or misleading lurid details
    Cuomo stands little chance of being judged fairly in the present climate. Biden says to believe the women and don't scapegoat them when they bravely speak out. Except,of course, the women accusing him. A new film, My Son Hunter, is about to be released. This should generate a bit of conversation - but not objectively.
    What might serve us better is to have professional hearings that could bar the miscreants from public service for limited periods or a lifetime depending on the consequences of their deeds.

Les commentaires sont fermés.