Limitation #10: Political Parties are Incapable of Dealing with Internal Corruption
Honest, competent people do make it into positions of governance. They have worked their way up the ranks of party politics keeping most of their original ethical principles intact. They stay away from corrupt activities and within election laws. They treat all politicians with respect. They do the best job of which they are capable within the confines of the arena they are working in. But sooner or later they encounter a party colleague involved in very obvious corruption — long before the media or opposition politicians ever hear of it. And they are forced to make a decision to either bring this person to some form of justice or let him or her continue with unethical activity.
So what are the implications of honest politicians who bring their errant colleagues to justice?
First, the very process of bringing a party colleague to some kind of internal party trial will probably attract attention the party does not want. The opposition will tout this one act of corruption as the tip of the iceberg. The media will milk this controversial situation as long as the public remains interested. The public will probably unfairly judge the party as being rife with corruption and will not see the step of the party disciplining its corrupt member as being good governance.
Second, an open case of corruption often slows down the process of governance. Attention is directed away from much-needed legislation and other areas of governance. The focus will be on the corrupt party individual, and the government cannot easily move until this issue is resolved or goes away.
Third, many cases of corruption never make it to the attention of the public despite unethical activities being carried on for years. Therefore, the possibility of negative publicity is actually quite low if the party chooses not to invoke self-discipline measures. Even if the corruption does gain the public’s attention, most political parties know they can ride out one or two scandals and not suffer for it at the next election.
Fourth, political parties are quite forgiving of those who have proven they can win elections. Amassing funds and volunteers, motivating those volunteers, and winning the election are the three most important attributes a political party values in its politicians. Everything else — including honesty and competence — is of secondary importance.
Though honest politicians can account for their own actions and decisions while serving in politics, they have almost no ability to provide justice to the society they govern when their political colleagues do not operate under similar moral and ethical principles. As long as our society wants to be governed by political parties, this relationship between honest politicians and their dishonest colleagues will not improve.