I am tempted to headline this blog, “What’s the Matter with Illinois?” but that would be unfair to all of the good people of that great state who have seen five governors indicted in 50 years, the immediate past governor in jail, and the current governor now exposed as the worst kind of garden variety political criminal — someone who nakedly sought personal gain in exchange for political favors. Ugh.
The ability of a governor of a state to appoint a U.S. Senator when a sitting senator vacates the seat is a clear example of absolute power accorded to governors by many state constitutions. The efforts of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to barter the Senate seat of Barack Obama for personal gain for himself and his family perfectly illustrates the axiom from political theory, “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.” Amen to that! The truly tawdry nature of Blagojevich’s taped telephone conversations and related actions reveals a personality so divorced from the idea of ethical conduct that he should never have been allowed anywhere near an elected office.
What’s the matter with public people? Why does this keep happening? In just the last year, we’ve seen New York Governor Eliot Spitzer self-destruct with high-priced hookers, his replacement Governor David Patterson admitting to extramarital affairs, the mayor of Detroit pleading guilty to felony obstruction of justice arising out of a sex scandal, former Senator John Edwards cheaing on his wife, and gross misconduct by other politicians and public figures too numerous to mention. Some of the misconduct makes the minor scandal of Sarah Palin’s campaign clothing bills look pretty harmless by comparison. But all of these examples — from a the basic clueless judgment about shopping trips to Nieman’s to the deliberate and malicious selling of a Senate seat — reveal the interior life of individuals who have come to think that they are untouchable. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Anyone who lives in the public eye — let me include college presidents in that group! — should assume every waking minute that people are watching. People are always passing judgment. People are just waiting for the small slip in good taste or large breach of ethical standards.
Being watched is not surprising. The only surprise is how many public figures continue to demonstrate utter cluelessness — and absolute corruption.