The List has not made an appearance on this blog for a while. Maybe the John Edwards trial, despite his acquittal, has cooled the sybaritic tendencies of famous powerful men. Or maybe they’re just exhausted.
But lest we think that the aura of scandal must involve female interns or photo tweets of unmentionables, our pols in D.C. provide ample examples of scandal done the old-fashioned way: greed for money, fueled by arrogance, blinded by the wrong kind of ambition.
Washington Post Columnist Petula Dvorak writes today about the sense of entitlement that has driven the scandals in D.C. government — Kwame Brown and Harry Thomas, Jr. being exemplars of young men who believed that their elections entitled them to dip into the cookie jar — funds earmarked for children, or bank loans based on false information — to acquire the opulent tchotchkes of status: boats, exotic shoes, “fully loaded” vehicles, stuff.
Can any stuff be worth so much disgrace and the utter betrayal of democracy for the city?
Somewhat ironically, the tawdry nature of the Brown-Thomas corruption scandals (really, a boat called “Bulletproof”??) led a writer for The Root to say that, “Kwame Brown is no Marion Barry” in reference to the most notorious politician in the city’s history. At least the former mayor, now Councilmember Barry, has a track record of some achievements for the city despite his well-known illegal escapades.
Sadly, however, the people who already have huge biases against Home Rule — conservative congressmen from states well beyond the Beltway — are unlikely to parse the differences among the types of crimes committed or alleged to have been committed by D.C. leaders. The whole becomes far greater than the sum of the parts, and each scandal simply reinforces the perception that the District of Columbia is a wayward child that does not deserve the full rights of our democracy.
Of course, as the Washington Post opines, “D.C. doesn’t have the corruption franchise to itself.” But what the editors miss in their recitation of the crimes committed by successive governors of Illinois and numerous members of Congress is the plain fact that bigotry runs in one direction — against the people who are the victims of racism and disenfranchisement. Like it or not, black political leaders have to work harder to overcome the overwhelming opposition to their credibility that flows underneath the surface of this still-unequal society. And their obligation to work harder is not just to advance their own ambitions, but most profoundly, to serve the cause of justice and equality for the people who elected them. The stakes are much higher because so many bigots are sitting back watching the show and ready to pounce on any failure. Just consider the virulence of the comments about President Obama that flows through much online discussion.
And, by the way, the sideshow of investigations and indictments keeps overwhelming the serious work that our elected leaders must pursue thoughtfully and with no distractions. Effective governance should be a real partnership of public and private leaders and citizens working together on the most important causes of the city — improvement in educational and economic opportunities, relief of poverty and expansion of services for children and mothers, housing, healthcare and the range of activities that are part of a robust municipal government. Many people of good will in government and on the private side are working in these areas in D.C., but many are frustrated and angry that the sideshow keeps overshadowing the real agenda for D.C.
D.C. leaders cannot feel entitled to behave like old-time city machine politicians. They must hold themselves to far higher standards, and the citizens of the city must demand greater accountability for the negative reputational impact that thwarts D.C.’s progress.
See my blog on the Huffington Post District of Disgrace
Follow me on Twitter @TrinityPrez