chapter  5
POLITICISING ETHICS: Scandal and the American Experience
Pages 15

In 1991, Suzanne Gannent lamented that scandal had become an overwhelming force in US politics, effectively pushing aside considerations of competence, efficiency, wisdom and rationality (Gannent, 1991). In recoil from the horrors of Watergate, law-makers, the public and the media had whipped each other up into a pennanent frenzy over issues of character, integrity and sometimes quite trivial lapses in judgment. House Speaker Newt Gingrich began his rise to prominence by commandeering ethical issues into service in partisan warfare and made his breakthrough by managing to redefine the 1994 congressional elections as a referendum on the characters of President Bill Clinton, House of Representatives 'Boss' and longtime Chainnan of House Ways imd Means Committee Dan Rostenkowski and the entrenched Democratic leadership. I

Yet for much of the 1996 presidential election campaign, candidate Bob Dole, struggling with his image as an angry old man, seemed reluctant to open up 'the character issue'. However, when every other strategy produced no movement in the polls, Dole began to hammer away with vigour at opponent Clinton's perceived flaws and foibles. He was surprised to find even this message produced no reaction. 'Where is your outrage?', he asked the American people. Part of that outrage was apparently suppressed, as voters 'held their nose' and re-elected - as they did in 1972 with Richard Nixon - an ethically ambiguous incumbent who had presided over an improving economy rather than gamble on a challenger touting impressivesounding but self-contradictory policies. Nevertheless, that scandal could become a presumptive trump card strategy suggests how institutionalised it has become.