Marion Barry and The Julie Principle

Poor Julie. Luckily for her, she didn't exist. Washington, D.C. does.

Poor Julie. Luckily for her, she didn’t exist. Washington, D.C. does.

The Washington Post just discovered that D.C. Councilman Marion Barry is unethical, and boy, is it steamed!

Well, that’s not quite fair. The Post editors authored an editorial about Barry’s latest example of his complete rejection of ethical principles other than his guiding star, which is “If it’s good for Marion Barry, it’s good for everyone else.” Barry recently published a self-congratulatory, delusional autobiography (I nearly wrote about it, but I was afraid doing so would make me nauseous), “Mayor for Life,” and right in the acknowledgments, he announces that one of his council aides, LaToya Foster, spent “nights, weekends, and many long hours of assistance” working on book at taxpayer expense.  Using D.C. government employees as his personal staff was standard operating procedure for Barry during his various pre- and post-crack terms as mayor, so there is little chance that he played it straight this time. No chance, really. A Washington City Paper investigation of calendar entries and emails showed that Foster’s work on Barry’s book “stretched far beyond her off-hours and into the D.C. Council workday, an arrangement that appears to violate D.C. Council ethics rules.”

The Post should stop editorializing about Barry’s ethics and instead focus attention where it might do some good: the D.C. voters and citizens he has thoroughly exploited and corrupted. Barry is a prime example of what I have dubbed The Julie Principle, evoking the famous lyrics of Julie’s lament in “Show Boat,” “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly…”   If Oscar Hammerstein was writing those lyrics today about Barry, the song, sung by voters of D.C.’s Ward 8, would go,

Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly”

Marion Barry will cheat, steal and lie..

Can’t help loving that man of mine.

The point is that D.C. Barry-worshipers can help it,must help it, and the Post should make it crystal clear why it is vital that they do help it. Barry will never change, because he a champion of unethical, the ends justifies the means racial politics and he has rationalized wrong-doing his entire life. His followers, enablers and supporters, however, corrupt their children, the city and its culture by refusing to reject the values, or lack of them, that his continuing success in politics promotes. The Washington Post will never change Barry, nor will any sanctions or ethics prosecutions be anything but temporary setbacks for him. Seldom has the old saw about the definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over again hoping that the results will be different been more appropriate. The Post inveighs,

“Mr. Barry has long considered himself immune to the rules that guide the actions of public officials — as his history of smoking crack cocaine, not filing taxes, steering city contracts to an ex-girlfriend and taking money from a city contractor, among other offenses, richly shows. Over the weekend, Mr. Barry was hospitalized after a car crash he reportedly caused by driving the wrong way on Pennsylvania Avenue SE. But it’s important he be held accountable in the new ethics case, as in the others.

Nah, at this point, it’s not that important. It would be nice, but it’s not that important. What is important is that the Post, and everybody else, clearly explain what happens to a city and its culture when it embraces a man like Marion Barry as a hero, and never lets go. We will never change Marion Barry, anymore than poor, doomed Julie could change the cur she was in love with. We have all have an obligation, however, to try to change the culture that allows these incorrigible and unethical leaders to keep doing us harm.


Facts: City Paper, Washington Post

5 thoughts on “Marion Barry and The Julie Principle

  1. Sadly, I doubt seriously that anything will ever change that culture, either. We currently have a black President who embodies that culture, reinforces it whenever possible, and claims it is, or should be, the norm. The only hope for a lasting change to it is that such a culture is, eventually, self-destructive. Unfortunately, when this culture self-destructs, it likely will take with it the healthy culture surrounding it.

  2. I think Detroit is the case to look at to see the result of this culture. You have a previously thriving city that only exists today because no one can figure out how to put it out of its misery. This is the best picture I can find of the cautionary tale of Detroit.

    The vast corruption and incompetence in Detroit was allowed by voters who voted by race first. All the failings of the government were framed in terms of race, all critics labelled racists or oreos. What happens when you can’t hold your elected leaders accountable for their actions? You get mismanagement and corruption.

    When they mismanaged and squandered the city’s resources, the wealthy left. The city raised taxes to an extent not allowed by state law, so new laws were enacted to enable Detroit to ‘do what it had to do’ despite the fact that passing such laws that only affect one city are against the state constitution (so the laws were written to only be for cities ‘over 1 million people’). When the city fell below 1 million people, they had the government ‘adjust’ each census because the city would collapse without their special laws (the corruption just snowballs, sound familiar). When this could no longer be accomplished, the city’s finances did collapse. The state stepped in again and again to shore up the city’s finances, until the state itself was too bankrupt to prop them up anymore. There were calls for the US government to take over propping up Detroit. Luckily, they only sent a few payments of hundreds of millions of dollars each. That money vanished rapidly with no noticeable improvement. Detroit is a black hole that can seemingly devour an infinite amount of money with nothing to show for it.

    Now, the city is listed as being $22 billion in debt with an impoverished population and a crumbling infrastructure (which is all owned by the city). The $22 billion figure is likely not realistic (the water department alone is owed over $8 billion) and I have seen figures as high as $1 trillion (no one really knows). Despite being in bankruptcy, there are rumors the city has been making deals to settle debts with unions and other favored creditors for 75-90 cents on the dollar, possibly committing more than the city has in assets. No seems to knows how, or have the political will, to handle a Detroit bankruptcy.

    Meanwhile, the city residents are left with few city services, high taxes and blight. They have turned to the usual method, arson, of clearing out the vacant homes (look at the Google Street View sites). Despite the fact that the city is broke, the blatant corruption continues today. I heard the city took several banks to court, accusing them of failing to tear down vacant, foreclosed houses they owned. The banks brought proof that they had paid the city to tear down the houses some time before. The city had no record of the payments and the money was gone.

    It isn’t all bad, though. On the bright side, with the layoff of over a quarter of the police force and response times measured by calendars, the crime rate has gone down by about 30%.

    A list of the top 10 most indebted countries was in the news last week. The US, strangely, wasn’t on it. The only country on it with a larger debt/GDP was Greece at 185%, we are at about 140%. We keep borrowing money, but to little visible effect. We keep wanting to spend more and more without facing the fact that we are broke. Who do we think will pay for this stuff? We have a government that flaunts the law, seems to have almost comical incidents of incompetence or bias, but brushes off all criticism as racism. Is Detroit just the trendsetter for what will become of the rest of the US?

    Disclosure: I enclosed the above in rant-tags that may not display in your browser

  3. Guys like Barry destroyed the “showpiece city” of Detroit thoroughly and in a remarkably short time. But Washington is the national capital! What does it say for us all that our federally run city is also controlled by creatures like this who have turned it into an epitome of crime and corruption?

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