Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ethics and Government: The Arrogance of Power

The Anthony Weiner scandal demonstrated little we did not already know about politicians: they have a habit of lying to the public, they have a customary and laissez-faire attitude to infidelity, and they come under media firestorms for what becomes an amusing set of peccadillos. The New York Post had a field day with this brouhaha, creating a series of rather tongue-in-cheek headlines: "The Rise and Fall of Weiner," "Weiner Limps Out," "Weiner Pulls Out," "Weiner Roast," and my particular favorite, "Obama Beats Weiner."

Of course, the great irony is that  the Weiner sex scandal had little to no sex (as far we presently know). Apparently, he got off on providing pictures of his pectoral muscles to women across the country and talking dirty to them, usually involving rather ludicrous exchanges involving "stupid" Republicans. No evidence exists at the moment that he ever met and performed physical, sexual relations with these women.

Weiner's biggest mistake was appearing on every news outlet to state that he was hacked. Unfortunately, this tactic of attempting to take control of the situation and wrench control away from the conservative blogosphere of figures, like Andrew Breitbart, backfired because of his inability to think through his story. The story was leakier than a sieve, and comments such as "I cannot say with certitude that that is not me" began to show that there was a shaky foundation to his tale.

Weiner fought the impending resignation with vigor, but ultimately the story was so salacious and hilarious that everyone from Leno to Kimmel to Letterman and Access Hollywood picked up the story. When you have every comedian roasting you on late night, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep office.

The stream of pictures featuring Weiner half-naked buried him. This is in contrast to David Vitter, the Republican Senator from Louisiana, whose name appeared numerous times on the call logs of the DC Madam. Even though it is clear that he broke the law by engaging in the solicitation of prostitutes, he has remained in office, even being re-elected with little issue. He admitted to committing a "serious sin," but perhaps he did not face the uproar we saw unleashed on Weiner or Clinton or Larry Craig simply because there was no humor in the story and no incriminating photos, stories or even phone messages (a la O'Reilly with his shower falafel).

What politicians should be wary of is going on any cable news network and decrying the behavior of a colleague and demanding his resignation. Demanding it forthwith! Humans err, and placing oneself in a position of moral superiority will always look hypocritical when one's own peccadillos emerge. Oh and they will. Larry Craig's inanity emerged after his toe-tapping disaster in an airport bathroom, which exposed a series of rumors emanating from DC and his penchant for young boys, in stark contrast to his voting record against gay rights. Bill Clinton's impeachment turned into a circus when Bob Livingston resigned because he too had been carrying out perfidious relations with other women. And we all know about Newt Gingrich's uncaring ways to the women he has loved.

With every John Edwards, who commits scandalous wrongs and get caught in a series of fibs that spin out of control, there is another stream of ethical violations occurring in every level of government. These strings of wrongdoings involve money, lobbyists, and a flagrant disregard for their constituents and the rules of their governing institutions. Tom Delay has been convicted for being involved in the far-reaching Abramoff scandal, where a lobbyist was pocketing massive amounts of money from clients for whom he lobbied and bought the votes of senators and congressmen. John Ensign's affair with a staffer crossed the line of sexual infamy into moral corruption when he paid off his staff members by funneling money through his parents.

No one called for Ensign's resignation, and no one called for Vitter's. It may be best for everyone to call for an investigation, which will then censure and fine the accused or even indict the criminal, if such legal meanderings can be prosecuted.

A new scandal seems to be looming on the horizon, this time involving Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Thomas, with fellow justices Alito, Roberts, and Scalia, has become the forceful conservative side of the Court. He has provided votes in numerous cases such as Citizens United (2009) that have rewritten laws regarding campaign finance law. His role in these decisions, however, is now under dispute. It appears that his close relationship with the Texan real-estate magnate, Harlan Crow, may have been a decisive influence on certain votes, including one vote that ruled against the American Enterprise Institute, a board on which Crow sits, with Thomas as the SOLE dissenting vote in the opinion.

In fact, Citizens United, who had produced a film about Hillary Clinton, helped during Thomas' confirmation hearings by creating ads that attacked Senators who supported Anita Hill during those salacious congressional sessions. Citizens United has in fact proven to be very useful to someone close to Thomas: his wife. Virginia Thomas created a tea-party PAC, called Liberty Central Inc., which benefits from the Citizens United decision, by now being able to contribute exorbitant sums of money to political campaigns with little oversight from regulators.

Supreme court Justices are not beholden to any code of ethics, unlike Federal Court judges or appellate level ones. The House can initiate impeachment hearings against a Justice for crimes and misdemeanors but that seems an unlikely possibility under the Boehner regime (even Pelosi would be reticent to undertake such actions, which hold little precedent).

Because there is no sex involved in cases involving corruption, it is highly improbable that Thomas' quandaries involving his judicial decisions will ever appear on Extra or Leno. The only Supreme court Justice to resign from possible corruption was an LBJ appointee, Abe Fortas, who took money from business interests for advising them, in 1969. Apparently, taking money from lobbying groups and finding in their favor is less offensive than sending pics of your penis to women who follow your twitter. Are our priorities out of whack?

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