Rationalizing Corruption

But remember: the trains ran on time!

But remember: the trains ran on time!

It is a debate that erupts here periodically: Do you vote for the honest and trustworthy politician whose policies you despise, or the lying rogue who stands for all the “right” things? Washington Post editor Hilary Krieger raises the issue with gusto in the Sunday Washington Post, with an essay titled (in the print edition) “Is a little political corruption all that bad?”

Yes, Hilary, it is.

Next question?

But perhaps that’s not sufficient to kill this particular snake, so let’s delve a bit deeper into this truly fatuous, ethically obtuse article.

Krieger was prompted, it seems, to pen this offal because of the recent problems of D.C. mayor Vincent Gray, who has been credibly accused, by a prosecutor, of an illegal fundraising operation that helped him win election in 2010. Noting that Gray has been successful in improving some aspects of the city’s government, Krieger asks,

“But in pondering Gray’s fate, I wondered: Is it really in voters’ best interests to disqualify candidates, no matter the good they’ve done, because of a corruption scandal or two?”

To which I respond, “Is it in voters’ best interests to live under a democracy? Gray’s particular brand of corruption was from the same slime pit as Richard Nixon’s, or, for that matter, Josef Stalin’s: rigging elections. If you accept what Gray is alleged to have done as a “little corruption,” then you are necessarily saying that it is acceptoible for leaders to just take power rather than win it in a fair election.

Her answer to her won question is a rationalization:

“Most voters think it isn’t [ in voters’ best interests to disqualify candidates because of a corruption scandal]. In fact, they’re often willing to overlook some missteps if a political leader has otherwise furthered the public good, especially if that leader is well-liked or the other candidates seem worse.”

Well, D.C. voters obviously know best then, right, Hilary? Has she forgotten where the culture of corruption in the District came from? These are the voters that elected serial criminal/drug user/hypocrite/ crony-hiring/ lying rogue Marion Barry as mayor until the city was virtually bankrupt…and he is still being elected, now as city councilman. By all means, D.C. voters are authorities on the harmlessness of corruption.

Krieger then attempts to bolster her untenable position by a series of invalid comparisons:

  •  Chris Christie and his traffic jam. Wrong. If it is proven that Christie was behind the abuse of power that created pointless gridlock as the supposed punishment for a defiant mayor and that he then lied about it, he will be political toast, and appropriately so.
  • President Reagan and Iran Contra. First of all, that scandal occurred during Reagan’s second term, and was widely regarded as proof of his cognitive decline. He never faced re-election. Second, that incident was not evidence of corruption, even if Reagan was involved, unless one regards FDR’s secret circumvention of Congress to assist Russia and Great Britain in World War II  as “corruption.” As stupid as the arms for hostage deal was, no one ever argued that it wasn’t undertaken in a sincere, if misguided, pursuit of the nation’s best interest, unlike, for example, the Lewinsky, Watergate, and current I.R.S. scandal cover-ups.
  • Bill Clinton, naturally. Clinton was impeached; he didn’t get away with his lies. The fact that so many Democrats and journalists—and women, because Bubba is so darned sexy—still admire him is a blight on American culture and politics, but its certainly doesn’t validate corruption, or Krieger’s argument.

The crux of her dubious logic is in this section:

“Voters’ overlooking corruption clearly has some serious costs — encouraging even worse behavior and eroding trust in government, for starters. [Comment: Ya think????? ] But a single-minded focus on rooting out corruption can also have unintended negative consequences — for instance, the layers of regulations and mandated disclosures, such as releasing tax forms, can trip up even capable public servants.”

Signature significance is at play here: politicians and leaders who engage in knowing corruption overwhelmingly tend to be, you know, corrupt. The words Krieger seems to lack in hee glossary are “trust, trustworthy, trustworthiness.” Politicians who lie, cheat and steal just aren’t. Forget about “starters”: voters who elect corrupt leaders aren’t “overlooking” corruption, they are endorsing it. The next step is becoming corrupt themselves; it’s called “the fish rots from the head down” or more simply, “follow the leader.”

Krieger’s example to support her supposed “unintended consequences” is either laughable or frightening—this is an editor of a major newspaper writing this junk? Look…

“Consider Tom Daschle. The former Senate majority leader had to withdraw from consideration as secretary of health and human services after he disclosed that he hadn’t paid taxes on a car-and-driver service provided by a friend and business associate. He also had around $80,000 in untaxed consulting income and took some charitable deductions for organizations that didn’t qualify. Watching the problems that have plagued the rollout of the Affordable Care Act under Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, it’s hard to think that the country has been better off for having disqualified Daschle from service.”

That’s right, Daschle was tax cheat, and individual who haven’t obeyed the laws shouldn’t be appointed to make, oversee and enforce them. This was at the beginning of President Obama’s administration, and his now thoroughly discredited promise to run an ethical government was still considered a serious one. The fact that the President appointed an incompetent to replace Daschle is a pure “it’s not the worst thing” rationalization (#22 on the list), and a particularly illogical one. So the only choices for Health and Human Services Secretary in the whole country were a tax cheat and a bumbler? Besides, the President likes bumblers: Sibelius still has her job.

The essay gets ethically worse:

“There’s another potential cost: the ability to get things done. ‘When you take away the tools that lend themselves to corruption, you also take away the tools that make it possible to govern,’ says Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who has written extensively on corruption. ‘Something like what Christie’s people did looks more like traditional machine politics, which is ugly, unfair, corrupt and arguably sometimes necessary.’Those unfair and corrupt practices — such as favoring certain groups and intimidating dissenters — are precisely the ones that can build a base of loyal followers and that can be necessary for getting results in a fractious system. Which, in turn, can encourage constituents to look past some unsavoriness.”

Well, let’s break out the brown shirts, then.

Indeed, ethics often stand in the way of easy solutions; they also prevent vicious, oppressive, cruel and unjust ones. Voters, and Washington Post editors, who endorse corruption as long as it is the “right” leaders being corrupt are rolling the dice with our freedom, liberty, peace, welfare and safety, indeed, they are recklessly risking the soul of society. Good people, and trustworthy leaders, despise corruption. Those who engage in corruption, no matter how they spin it, are never worthy of trust.

11 thoughts on “Rationalizing Corruption

  1. Second, that incident was not evidence of corruption, even if Reagan was involved, unless one regards FDR’s secret circumvention of Congress to assist Russia and Great Britain in World War II as “corruption.”

    This would have been a scandal had it come out at the time.

  2. Voters, and Washington Post editors, who endorse corruption as long as it is the “right” leaders being corrupt are rolling the dice with our freedom, liberty, peace, welfare and safety, indeed, they are recklessly risking the soul of society.

    If voters endorse corruption, only the corrupt will win elections.

      • Although I’ve read (somewhere, I could look it up if I weren’t lazy) that he actually didn’t, and mass transit in Itialy was a shambles. Well damn, if you can’t trust a cliche, what CAN you trust?

        Although I still think it’s a useful cliche for pointing out how we find ways to justify evil.

  3. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this is that the EDITOR of a major American newspaper can not only hold such opinions, but actually print them in her own paper and expose them to the public without compunction. Is she so closeted in liberal journalistic circles that she can’t comprehend how the public will react to this? Or is she so contemptuous of the public’s powers of reasoning and/or their “archaic” values system that she thinks she can sway them with this incredible abuse of journalism and logic? In any case, MIzz Krieger (the name means “warrior” in German- for what it’s worth!) has not only displayed the reason why so many Americans have turned away from the traditional press, but has likewise inflicted upon herself the revelation of a deep, abiding scorn for America and the values that define it. One would almost think she was channeling Boss Tweed or George Washington Plunkett. They, however, never claimed to be journalists.

  4. I have nothing but contempt for politicians who boo-hoo about “Well I didn’t MEAN to break the law, it’s just too complicated and I slipped up!”

    Guess what? You and your ilk made the law. In creating a nation where it’s nearly impossible to not commit some sort of crime on a regular basis simply by falling afoul of deliberately confusing laws, the people who kept layering on the garbage get no sympathy from me when they get caught under a sudden landslide of it.

  5. Actually, Jack, Mussolini doesn’t even have the trains boast going for him. In the disruption of the Italian rail system following the devastation of WW II, the prewar on-time rate for Italy’s railroads may have looked good by comparison, but only by comparison. Historians who have looked at the boast have found that there was nothing remarkable about the number of trains that ran on time during Mussolini’s prewar time in office, which is to say, it was mediocre, at best. Dictators, contrary to what the current POTUS seems to think, generally make lousy managers.

  6. It reminds me of Mayor White here in Houston. As the “chosen one” in the election, he ran primarily on the promise that he would co-ordinate the street lights downtown. Well, he did. Unfortunately, they gradually fell out of sequence again… and nothing was done! There’s a lesson there… somewhere!

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