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Who Will Police the Police?


Plato first posed the question in describing his notion of The Republic: who will ensure that those responsible for security do not abuse their power? Who will police the police? The question survives across the millennia, evidence of the corrupting influence of power.

I thought of this old Political Theory maxim again last week as the news broke about the firing of U.S. attorneys and the various explanations offered by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. One of the excuses was that similar firings occurred during the Clinton Administration, too. That’s not so much an excuse as simply further proof of Plato’s wisdom.

It’s been a long and bitter winter for people in power in Washington. The vice president’s chief of staff now convicted of perjury; generals responsible for Walter Reed Army Medical Center fired over the scandalous conditions there; the wilful exposure of CIA Agent Valerie Plame; now, calls for Attorney General Gonzales to resign over the politically-motivated firings of Justice Department lawyers.

Every political administration has its woes, its critics, its bad judgments and ethical scandals. Our work in education is not about taking political sides, but rather, trying to find the right lessons to teach in the face of a great deal of bad behavior among people who really should know better. We say that we are preparing the future generations of citizen leaders — the future U.S. Attorneys, the intelligence agents and staff to Congressional committees, perhaps the elected officials and their senior counsel, the leaders of public interest groups, health professionals and the managers of governmental agencies responsible for delivering social services.

To ask what these future leaders might be learning from today’s scandals seems too simplistic. More pointedly, what can we do in education to improve the ethical performance of public officials in the future? Your ideas are welcome — I will return to this topic in some of my next blogs. Please share your thoughts by clicking on the envelope below or send me a message at

For more on the firing of the federal prosecutors see the New York Times coverage and The Washington Post.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: