Both Rod Blagojevich and Tom DeLay were taking victory laps this week, Blago because a jury failed to come to an agreement on his trial for selling political favors, DeLay because the Justice Department dropped its prosecution of him. In the minds of both of these corrupt and shameless politicians, they were indeed vindicated, because both operate under the delusion that if one’s conduct manages to avoid breaking laws to the point where one could be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, then that conduct is “ethical.” This same delusion has been shared by many other human blights on American society and ethical corrupters in business and politics, including Presidents Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton, Ken Lay, the executives at Goldman Sachs and AIG, Marion Barry, Maxine Waters, and too many others to mention. It is still a delusion.
Blagojevich, who will be retried, is likely to avoid a criminal conviction because nobody took him up on his general willingness to sell a U.S. Senate seat for personal gain. The tapes that are the main evidence against him just portray a venal and principal-free low-life, who saw no duty to make sure that the people of Illinois would be represented in the U.S. Senate by an honest and capable public servant, and instead sought to profit be making sure that the appointee would have as rotten an ethical core as he does. He may not have been a criminal, but his own statement prove that there are a lot of criminals who would make a more trustworthy governor than Blago.
DeLay is even worse. The New York Times ran an editorial today entitled “Tom DeLay’s Legacy,” pointing out that the only reason DeLay will escape punishment is that the kind of unethical practices DeLay wallowed in as G.O.P. House leader are either winked at by the corrupt political culture or too difficult to prosecute:
“Mr. DeLay’s wife and daughter, for example, were paid more than $500,000 by his political action and campaign committees for “strategic guidance” and event-planning. Others in Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have put family members on the payroll….Mr. DeLay, his wife and several staff members took a lavish 10-day golf trip to England and Scotland in 2000. The trip was arranged by [Convicted lobbyist and bribe-launderer Jack] Abramoff and paid for by gambling-industry clients, including the Choctaw Indian tribe. Two months later, Mr. DeLay helped kill a bill to ban Internet gambling — a proposal that the tribe and Mr. Abramoff’s other client feared would hurt their business. There were several other trips arranged by Mr. Abramoff and conveniently followed by legislative favors. In 1997, Mr. DeLay and his wife visited the South Pacific island of Saipan. The trip was paid for by the island’s government and garment manufacturers, clients of Mr. Abramoff. Mr. DeLay later helped block a bill that would have required the garment manufacturers to pay workers the minimum wage.”
It’s only a short editorial; the Times could only scratch the surface of DeLay’s mile-long list of unethical manuevers. “The Hammer” openly violated the rules of the House to extend voting deadlines when he wanted legislation passed. He engaged in virtual extortion to coerce House members to vote his way, in one case threatening to ruin a retiring member’s son’s political career. He used a non-profit charity as a front for political fundraising, and so much more.
Most damaging of all, however, is that Tom DeLay built, nurtured, and celebrated the Machiavellian, uncivil unDemocratic and corrupt culture that has infected Congress ever since. The swamp that Nancy Pelosi pledged to drain was filled to the brim by DeLay, and the contagion it bred is still going strong. DeLay’s unethical practices “worked,” you see, and the Democrats as well as Republicans noticed. His methods got members re-elected; they got legislation passed; they made constituents happy; the enriched the elected officials who used them. And if they made collaborative and bi-partisan government impossible, enshrined “pay to play” as business as usual, eroded public faith in democracy and encouraged incompetent, irresponsible and ineffective legislation, so what? It was all legal, after all.
Both DeLay and Blagojevich betrayed their duties as leaders, public servants, role models and Americans by debasing the system of government they were pledged to honor and protect. At least they are out of public life, unless you want to count “Dancing With the Stars” (DeLay) or “Celebrity Apprentice” (Blago) as “life.” Let us not, however, permit them to further corrupt our nation by claiming they are “innocent.”