Dr. Pat Raines, dean for the College of Business Administration and interim provost, moderated a panel discussion last Friday about ethical issues in today’s political environment. Panelists included Congressman Jim Cooper, D-5th district, and lobbyist Stewart Clifton. Clifton is an attorney and lobbyist for such groups as the League of Women Voters, the Alzheimer’s Association and National Association of Social Workers. U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn, R-7th district, was supposed to participate; however, she had to attend a press conference in Spring Hill announcing the re-opening of the area’s GM plant.
During their opening statements, both Cooper and Clifton stressed the importance of integrity in politics. Cooper opened by announcing, “Well, if I had 400 jobs to announce in my district, I’d probably miss this, too,” addressing Blackburn’s absence. Cooper went on to lament the “cocooning effect of news” and stress the importance of informed voting. Clifton, on the other hand, used his opening address to make general observations on the role of integrity in politics. He noted that “to make any impact on the political process requires relationships. There are no lone ranger success stories in public policy.”
Before starting the question-and-answer session, Dean Raines said, “Ethics in politics should not be an oxymoron.” The panel brought out several interesting observations from Cooper and Clifton. Both panelists agreed that political figures are held to a higher standard—but that’s a good thing. While referring to figures such as Mark Twain, Will Rogers and Jon Stewart, Cooper said, “Thank goodness we have those folks because it shines a spotlight on the ridiculous.” Clifton said, “I don’t think public officials have a monopoly on bad behavior… but no one gets scrutinized quite like public officials.”
When asked about the current state of news, both Cooper and Clifton drew a line between journalism and entertainment and agreed most televised news falls into the entertainment category. Cooper said, “The news gatherers, the truth tellers, are in short supply.” He blames the lack of truly well-educated journalists. Clifton said we still have legitimate journalism, but he said, “It is sad to see the failure of a general shared body of information… There are just separate realities out there created by media.”