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Ethics of Hounds and Hares

AFTER an observer watches the scandal hunters behave repeatedly with a characteristic moral blindness and realizes that their narrow perspective serves their private interests very well, the punishments meted out in many scandals come to seem arbitrary. Those who play the hounds do not look at all ethically superior to those who end up as hares. The very idea of ethics in government, as enforced today, comes to seem worthy of profound cynicism.To say that the pursuit of politicians and their wrongdoing is a morally complex enterprise is only to begin the debates that are possible on these issues. We can disagree about which offenses by political figures merit the most severe type of treatment. We can argue over the extent to which individuals accept tougher rules of punishment when they choose to have public careers. These questions are wholly legitimate ones. But before we can discuss them we must ask a prior question: How much moral responsi bility do the scandal hunters bear toward their human targets? And the answer cannot always be "none."

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