As far as nasty and unfair-to-the-minority generalizations go, the assertion that “all politicians are venal, corrupt power addicts” is a pretty safe one. Because almost everyone, including the politicians, know that it has some basis in fact.
Indeed, an entire oxymoronic political movement, the Tea Party, has been built recently around the simplistic assumption that government is inherently bad. Folks are tired of the perpetual nonsense, of being institutionally robbed by their neighbors. But they’re also too tired to do anything about it. Every week there’s some new outrage reported, some low-minded, selfish bit of skullduggery from an alleged “public servant.” Bad behavior is what we expect from those who have the bad taste to be a politician. We’re relieved and surprised when our elective representatives finish their terms without doing anything that triggers our ethics alarm.
So it is not wildly irresponsible to suggest that Ye Olde Publick Electorate must demand from their candidates, every single one of them, including beloved incumbents (especially them), a signed pledge in which they promise that they will not only adhere to the letter of the law they will also adhere to the spirit of the law — that they will not only avoid acting improperly they will also avoid even the appearance of acting improperly.
We need such an agreement, because the great defense of most shot-takers is that they didn’t violate any laws. Since it is they and their cronies who write these conveniently porous laws, composed of regulations meant to catch the minnows yet magically allow the giant catfish to pass through onto their next meal of creek crap, that’s not exactly reassuring.
California regularly produces guys (and gals) who would be imprisoned white-collar felons if they hadn’t stumbled into the government racket. The whole nation has followed in glum disgust the crimes committed by the operatically greedy administrators of the LA County city of Bell. Our Governor Schwarzenegger, who vowed to be Mr. Clean, left his legacy permanently tarnished with a last-minute sentence reduction of someone complicit in murder, the son of a political ally/donor/member-of-the-club. And now we learn about what some of our County Supervisors have been doing. Legally.
There’s nothing like the financial pain of writing one’s annual County Property Tax check — especially when one does not have children in County schools, own a car that travels on County roads, or receive any direct benefit from the County in the form of grants, stipends or salary — to make one acutely sensitive to the reprehensible behavior of his elected overlords.
As I mail away many thousands of dollars, the price for the privilege of owning a home in Los Angeles County, I read in the newspaper that County Supervisor Don Knabe has been refusing to recuse himself from business decisions involving his son, a lobbyist, because, technically speaking, Knabe the Younger doesn’t live in the same domicile as his father and, therefore, Knabe the Elder isn’t technically speaking breaking any law. (If the son lived with the father, their business relationship would be illegal.) Simultaneously, reporters have learned that City Councilman Dennis Zine has been refusing to recuse himself from business decisions involving his girlfriend, a lobbyist, because, technically speaking, she’s only his girlfriend and, therefore their business dealings aren’t technically speaking breaking any law. (If the girlfriend was his wife, their business relationship would be illegal.)
Both of these decision-makers, who control billions of public spending dollars, adamantly declare that they’re following the rules, have been encouraged by their lawyerly review, etc. Both fellows are either utterly tone deaf or utterly shameless. Aside from their cronies, none of us taxpayers want them doling out contracts to firms represented by close associates.
Until we the electorate emphasize to our representatives that how they behave — whether “legal” or not — matters, being “correct” will always trumpdoing the right thing.