Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

We're the ones who are unethical

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
December 9, 2012 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
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
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT