Power corrupts. It corrupts people who go into politics for the wrong reasons. And it corrupts people who go into politics for the right reasons. If you stay in power for any very long period of time, you’re going to be more and more tempted to sacrifice principle on the altar of political convenience.
Citizen legislator Dr. Tom Coburn served three terms in Congress before stepping down to fulfill his term-limit pledge. Now he’s published a book, Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders , that diagnoses the effects of exposure to power. “In Washington, power is like morphine,” he writes. “It dulls the senses, impairs judgment, and leads politicians to make choices that damage their own character and the machinery of our democracy.”
Dr. Coburn deserves credit for sticking to his principles during his six years in Congress, sometimes almost alone against the tide. But he admits that he too could resort to doing the politically expedient thing. He tells, for example, of how he changed his vote on one issue just to avoid political hassles. He reports, “I walked onto the House floor, and the vote was so lopsided I failed to have the courage to vote for what I knew was right. Instead, I voted for the side that would give me the least grief after the vote. In other words, I compromised my own principles for expediency.” Coburn sinned. Has the guts to admit he sinned. But for the career politicians, political expediency isn’t a lamentable aberration. It’s par for the course.
This is Common Sense.Â I’m Paul Jacob.