Political skeptics are rarely disappointed. Their bar’s not very high. We who gravitate to the political arena, when “politicking” ceases, most will lick our “wounds” and settle in to be good citizens. Many will conduct themselves within the clearly drawn legal and ethical boundaries-absent political mischief to gain unfair advantage. A cadre of politicians have already shifted their focus, while counting votes, to counting filthy lucre, that will ultimately “line their own pockets,” bolstering their careerist impulses simultaneously. Some of their shenanigans may be “legal,” but many would fail the “moral sniff” test, serving to hasten the slide to political corruption, under the guise of “serving their constituency.” Rather than accepting “it’s just politics,” we should consider less flattering terms such as cronyism or kleptocracy.
The full scope of political scandal and corruption are beyond this column. Suffice it to say our brief history as a nation, or a state, is not bereft of the corruptive side of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Unfortunately, there’s no bright light to distinguish from “major” or “minor” corruption. What isn’t clear is the extent to which the public is outraged. Politicians plan on voter political amnesia.
Wyoming is no stranger to corruption. The “Teapot Dome scandal” was investigated by the U.S. Senate, when Democratic Senator Thomas Walsh introduced legislation on April 15, 1922. On the previous day, the Wall Street Journal had reported an unprecedented arrangement in which the Secretary of Interior Albert Fall, New Mexico, without competitive bidding, had leased the U.S. Naval petroleum reserve at Wyoming’s Tea Pot Dome to a private oil company. “How did Secretary Fall get rich so quick?” Republican leadership quickly wanted an answer to that nagging question. It was reported that two oil company executives “greased his palm” with $400,000 in loans and “gifts.” He was convicted in 1929. Change the date and names, and it’s contemporary headlines. Was that “major” or “minor corruption?”
What’s corrupt? Who’s to say? Webster’s definition, “changed from a sound condition to an unsound one; spoiled, contaminated; rotten; morally unsound or debase; perverted; evil; wicked; depraved; taking bribes; venal; containing alterations, errors, or improperly altered word or text.” Not very inspiring. When former President Bill Clinton repeatedly denied any relations with “that woman,” swearing he hadn’t ask anyone to lie-the Senate vote countered his claim. When a politico sends out a letter or press release with alterations, masking the truth-or misleading the public-he or she’s corrupt. What about Wyoming’s over-budgeted State Capitol renovation, and a bid process that reportedly “picked winners and losers?” A lawsuit has ensued, filed by Karl Allred and Gerald Gay, challenging its constitutionality. What should one call it? Corruption? Or “cronyism as usual?”
Apparently “political transparency” and corruption are, after all, “compatible bedfellows.” President Obama boasted his administration would be the most transparent ever. In 1988, Bush 41’ promised, “Read my lips; no new taxes.” President Nixon denied Watergate. However, it’s not just politicos. The 24/7 news cycle keeps politics at the forefront. They’re most visible. When we narrowly define corruption as only “evil and wicked behavior” there’s a tendency to point our boney finger at others we deem “more corrupt” than ourselves. We err by thinking only of actions. Corruption is first a state of mind. What about omissions? Knowing the right thing to do and abstaining from doing it. Both the Levite and the priest passed the injured, half-dead soul on the Jericho road.
Temptation is at every turn. Turning our head when we know something’s wrong, and choosing to do nothing meets the threshold of corruption. Few of us would rob a bank. How about a moment of veniality? Invoking rules that don’t exist. Cheating on our spouse? Lying to a colleague? Plagiarism? Falsely accusing an elected official for political gain? Perhaps our memories are too short, and our standards to low. This age of “winking” at corruption and wrongdoing “getting a pass,” will continue to vex our souls. Returning scoundrels to office only reinforces their entitlement mentality. The human condition is susceptible to feigned flattery, fast talk, and false promises that eclipse our senses. Most of us have, after failing to check the details, been left with “buyer’s remorse,” after basing decisions on emotion, impulse, or some visceral response, entering into that perfidious zone of emphasizing style over substance.
None are exempt from the wiles of corruption. Historically there appears to be a character flaw that marks one as most susceptible to corruption. The inability, or unwillingness, to admit when one is wrong-corruption’s not far behind. When one is “never wrong,” it casts a blinding sense of personal invincibility. There’s always another to blame. Like the plague, avoid one who’s “never wrong.” Sadly, we all know someone bearing that mark. Their descent’s inevitable.
Only One can claim incorruptibility. Theologians call it impeccability. A towering moral problem of our age has an antidote. Being indefatigable in doing what we know to be right; opposing those who elect to do otherwise; and simultaneously remaining percipient to the lessons learned from poor choices. Whether it’s politics, or any realm of this earthly journey, don’t be fooled by external glitz, vacuous words, and duplicitous language, that may work in some circles. Sir Edmund Burke, aptly reminded us of those who speak with sophistry, with no intention of doing the same, “Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent, for never intending to go beyond the promise, it costs them nothing.“ What will corruption cost us? Is it in our lexicon, to say, “I was wrong?” What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org