Beyond the Congress, the research has implications for the working class. The research also shows that a sense of "moral clarity," even if it's wrong, makes a boss more likely to react strongly -- perhaps much too strongly -- to a worker who crosses the boss's version of a moral line. Participants in the study who felt powerful were clearly ready to administer stronger punishment to offenders than those who were less powerful. If the rest of the workers find the punishment excessive, it may disrupt the entire operation.
Of course, there are many other factors governing our reaction to ethical issues, in the workplace and in Washington.
In some cases, members of Congress entered politics simply because they felt strongly about a specific ethical issue. Concern over big government brought many newcomers into politics over the last four years, for example. Likewise for abortion, gay rights, immigration, and many other issues.
So some didn't achieve "moral clarity" because they just became powerful. But Wiltermuth suspects that power reinforced their convictions, making the gap between the two sides even wider.
The research doesn't address a much broader question. If power refines the moral compass, does it make the powerful more moral?
Who in Congress would like to take that one?