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Unethical politicians as a special case of trying really hard

- August 27, 2009

John tells the story of a friend of his, an ideologically-motivated politician who was caught violating campaign laws. John is baffled by why his friend cheated: John writes,

The things that politicians will do for fame or power or reputation do mystify me [John]. And they mystify me because I can’t imagine why politicians think that all this conniving works. Did Jeff honestly think that a mailer attacking Carnahan was going to win the election for him? Especially given that few people read direct mail anyway?

Here’s my theory: If you want to be really successful at something, you have to go balls-out. We don’t have to go so far as Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, or Lucky Luciano to find examples here. Think about Bill Gates’s aggressive business practices, or Barack Obama’s Rezko dealings, or, for that matter, scientists such as Robert Gallo. If you never push it to the edge, you’re probably not pushing hard enough.

This is not meant to excuse lawbreaking, but the real issue point is that to fight, you sometimes have to push on all fronts. A mailer here, a speech there, an ad somewhere else, it all adds up to votes. If you want to win, you have to play to win. I’m not saying that all politicians cheat, just that probably one sign of a good politician is that he or she cares enough about winning to push to the edge of existing laws, if not slightly over from time to time.

As to the ethical issue, of course the rationalization is that these laws are “technicalities.” I’m not saying this is my belief, only that it’s a natural thing for someone to believe. That, and “everybody does it and they don’t get caught.”