The seven deadly sins of politics: what's wrong with Clinton? Let us count the faults.

Author:Pitney, John J., Jr.

The application of Pope Gregory the Great's list of Seven Deadly Sins to present-day American politics, particularly to the Clinton administration, is discussed. The Seven Deadly Sins are pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony and lust.


It's hard to sort out the Clinton scandals. Did Monica Lewinsky ask Webb Hubbell to buy Vernon Jordan a dress? Did Bruce Babbitt win a Tyson's chicken at an Indian casino? Did he bet with Chinese money? And what's all this about Oral Roberts?

To understand the ethics mess, skip the latest scoops. The real explanation came out some 1,400 years ago, when Pope Gregory the Great identified the Seven Deadly Sins. Gregory's list furnishes a concise guide to basic principles of contemporary politics: pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust.

Pride. Chaucer wrote that pride is the "general root of all evils." In politics, this root runs deep. Candidates exaggerate their own virtues, sometimes believing what they say. Once in office, they surround themselves with fawning staffs. Washington is to ego as Iowa is to corn: a place where abundant fertilizer promotes amazing growth.

Pride creates its own ethical logic. "I'm good," thinks the politician, "and since good people don't do bad things, then whatever I do is OK." During his "no controlling legal authority" press conference, Al Gore said: "I'm proud of what I did. I do not feel like I did anything wrong, much less illegal. I am proud to have done everything I possibly could to help support the re-election of this president and to help move his agenda forward." The agenda justifies the means.

Pride is the original sin of public policy. The "anointed," as Thomas Sowell calls them, believe that they know what's best for everybody else - hence such monstrosities as the Clinton health plan. They also think that they can divine long-range trends in economics, international relations, and even weather - hence Gore's crusade against global warming.

Prideful politicians think that they can get away with anything. When their policies fail or their misdeeds become public, they shift the blame or deny that anything has gone wrong. Sometimes these responses fail, as Presidents Johnson and Nixon discovered. Sometimes they work, which is why President Clinton survived his first term.

Envy. What do average Washingtonians want? Better job titles, bigger offices, richer perks, and more one-on-one contact with the powerful. Staffers refer to the last item as "face time." (Perhaps certain politicians offer "designated-body-part time.")

Inevitably, what everyone wants is what somebody else already has. In the White House, such envy helps explain why aides vie to catch the president's eye and fulfill his desires (including...

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