Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

We're the ones who are unethical

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
updated 11:25 AM EST, Sun December 9, 2012
Members of Congress are widely considered dishonest. But, wonders Dean Obeidallah, should anyone really feel superior?
Members of Congress are widely considered dishonest. But, wonders Dean Obeidallah, should anyone really feel superior?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Gallup poll says Congress has the second-lowest ethical standards of any profession
  • Dean Obeidallah: If we care about ethics, why did we re-elect 91% of Congress in 2012?
  • No one brags that his or her lawyer or accountant is the most ethical, honest person, he says
  • We scoff at others' apparent moral bankruptcy and imagine we are superior, he says

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the editor of the politics blog The Dean's Report and co-director of the upcoming documentary "The Muslims Are Coming!" Follow him on Twitter: @deanofcomedy

(CNN) -- Congratulations, members of Congress: A new poll finds that you're not viewed as having the lowest ethical standards of any profession in the country! You edged out car salesman for that honor. Of course, you're viewed as the second worst profession in terms of honesty and ethics, but hey, savor this moment -- you've earned it.

At least these are the findings of a Gallup poll released this week that asked people to rate "the honesty and ethical standards of people" in different professions. Besides Congress and car salesmen, also bringing up the rear in this poll are the usual suspects, among them lawyers, stockbrokers and bankers.

Topping the list of professions we find most ethical were nurses, followed by pharmacists and doctors. Dentists came in lower, but I doubt that dentists are truly less honorable than M.D.s; it's just that dentists seem to enjoy causing us so much pain that this may be our way of paying them back.

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

In reviewing the poll results, I am left with a few burning questions. First, how can car salesmen be viewed as less trustworthy than Congress?

It wasn't the guys at the local Ford or Chrysler dealership who caused our government to lose its AAA credit rating. And they aren't the ones who can't agree on a budget deal while we collectively stare into the abyss of the "fiscal cliff." In fact, I have no doubt that a group of car salesmen could iron out a deal on the budget quicker than our recalcitrant Congress -- plus get us all to buy some undercoating for our cars to boot.

But here are my bigger questions about this poll. Do we really care about the ethics of the people in these professions? Does it truly matter to us whether they are honest?

If we actually did care about the moral fitness of Congress, why would we re-elect them to the tune of 91% in 2012? If honesty truly meant something to us, wouldn't we have voted out at least half of them? Even 25%? But no, when given a chance last month to vote out Congress, we sent home only 9% of those up for re-election.

And let's look at lawyers, a profession consistently viewed as ethically challenged. Before I saw the light and became a comedian, I was a practicing attorney for about six years. I can tell you firsthand that my clients never, ever asked me about ethics.

Does the military have an ethics issue?
Borger: Cliff is Congress' own creation
Harvard students accused of cheating

What did my clients always ask me about? How do we win -- be it a lawsuit or negotiations. (Followed by: How much is this going to cost me?) I even had clients tell me, in essence: I don't care what you have to do to win this case; win it, or I will find a lawyer who will. It was up to me to rein in my clients who wanted to go beyond what was ethically permissible.

Let's consider stockbrokers, also a profession that wallows in the pit of perceived low ethics. If your stockbroker had a tip for you that was not illegal but was ethically ambiguous, would you execute the trade based on that info if it could make you a nice payday?

Or what about your accountant? Would you support her recommendation to take a "questionable" deduction that would save you a nice chunk of money?

Honestly, have you ever heard someone brag that their lawyer, accountant or financial planner was the most ethical, honest person they ever met? Unlikely. But I bet you heard people say things like "My accountant is amazing at finding loopholes," "my broker gets me great returns on my money every year" or "my lawyer is a killer."

We want the meat, but we don't want to know how the calf is forced to live in a crate or how the lobster is boiled alive. We want tender veal, tasty seafood, lawyers who win cases and brokers who make us money. We want results.

But when a poll comes around about ethics, we are all of a sudden holier than thou. We scoff at others' apparent moral bankruptcy. We joke about their lack of ethics. We convince ourselves that we are ethically superior to them.

Yet in the very same instance, we re-elect them to Congress. We retain them to represent us in legal proceedings. We hire them to manage our money. And when they do a good job, we recommend them to friends.

So here are my real questions about this poll: Who really are the unethical ones here? Who truly deserves to be on the bottom of the list of honest people? Them or us?

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT