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9 J.L. & Pol. 461 (1992-1993)
Law and Ethics in Political Life: Considering the Cranston Case

handle is hein.journals/jlp9 and id is 471 raw text is: Law and Ethics in Political Life:
Considering the Cranston Case
Robert F. Bauer*
What does it mean to say politicians are in it for themselves?
This is a popular claim, heard often in denunciation of politics and
politicians. Its argument is also ethical, consisting of the view that
politicians are corrupted by self-interest-the desire to be
elected, to stay in office, to exercise power.1 So William Greider,
analyzing the betrayal of American democracy, declares:
Governing elites, not surprisingly, tend to their own self-
interest ... 2   This self-interest supposedly infects public life, its
symptoms visible in the lies politicians tell the public and the bar-
gains they strike with special interests. Great danger looms: For
as public officials continue to betray the public trust, the erosion
of democracy necessarily follows.
* Perkins Coie, Washington, D.C.; B.A., Harvard University, 1973; J.D., University of
Virginia, 1976. This paper would not have been possible without the critical readings of
successive drafts, constructive comments on both style and substance, and limitless patience
of my wife, Anita Dunn. I also have greatly benefited from readings of the manuscript and
comments by Martin Willard and Rebecca Carr Hawkins.
1 Sissela Bok, Lying- Moral Choice in Public and Private Life 174 (1978).
2 William Greider, Who Will Tell the People: The Betrayal of American Democracy 12
(1992); or as Michael Walzer has colorfully restated the conventional wisdom:
[T] he politician claims to play a different part than other entrepreneurs. He
doesn't merely cater to our interests; he acts on our behalf, even in our
name. He has purposes in mind, causes and projects that require the support
and redound to the benefit, not of each of us individually, but of all of us to-
gether. He hustles, lies, and intrigues for us-or so he claims. Perhaps he is
right, or at least sincere, but we suspect that he acts for himself also. Indeed,
he cannot serve us without serving himself, for success brings him power and
glory, the greatest rewards that men can win from their fellows. The com-
petition for these two is fierce; the risks are often great, but the temptations
are greater. We imagine ourselves succumbing. Why should our representa-
tives act differently? Even if they would like to act differently, they proba-
bly can not: for other men are all too ready to hustle and lie for power and
glory, and it is the others who set the terms of the competition. Hustling and
lying are necessary because power and glory are so desirable-that is, so
widely desired. And so the men who act for us and in our name are neces-
sarily hustlers and liars.
Michael Walzer, Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands, 2 Phil. & Pub. Aft. 160, 162-
3 Peter Madsen &Jay M. Shafritz, Essentials of Government Ethics 78 (1992).

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