Is Honest Politics Possible?

" Those who desire to treat politics and morals separately will never understand anything of either." So wrote Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and I agree. The practice of politics not only can but must be reconciled with the imperatives of honesty.

But what is honesty or dishonesty in a politician? Is it possible for a politician to be honest at all?

The question goes to the heart of democracy. When voters write off politicians as dishonest, anti-democratic movements thrive. Yet all politicians know that ambiguity and compromise tend to prevail over universal truths. Sometimes one must choose the lesser evil. Our ordinary standards of decency and righteousness cannot always be applied - but not because cynicism and hypocrisy are all that matter in politics.

Consider, for example, that prince of ambiguity, the Duc de Talleyrand. Not only corrupt, but a notorious traitor to consecutive masters, Talleyrand was said to have failed to sell his own mother only because there were no takers. Yet, although serially disloyal to French rulers, Talleyrand probably never betrayed France.