If you are from Illinois or Massachusetts, the question probably on your mind is, ” How come there are so many ethically challenged politicians in public life?” With the impeachment of Governor Rod Blogojevich, Illinois is now, to use a racing term, hitting the daily double as both former Governor George Ryan, a convicted felon, and now hair boy Rod make that two crooks in a row to occupy the top office in the state .
In Massachusetts following the racing analogy, the departure of Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi, who has beeen caught in a swirl of ethical miscues related to state contracts, has created the ultimate trifecta – Sal is the third Speaker in a row to be either indicted or be shoved out of office for participating in financial boondoggles or some other sort of illegal shenanigans.
So what’s happening in Illinois and Massachusetts? Why can’t these powerful politicians just be satisfied with the power and notereity rather than shake down other ambitious politicians or cozy up to shady lobbyists? Lord Acton may have had it correct when he said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Both Rod and Sal come from states where one party controls most of the levers of power and where a culture of corruption is so engrained that changing public behavior is next to impossible.
But there is more to the Rod and Sal Show than public power gone astray. These are guys from humble beginnings who wanted to become big shots, who felt a keen sense of entitlement once they took the oath of office, who enjoyed handing out favors and making deals, and who knew that they couldn’t make the big score like corporate CEOs, so they settled for small time corruption, a couple grand here and there, here and there.
Citizens from Illinois and Massachusetts are outraged by the actions of Rod and Sal, but they should not be naive enough to think that their departure from politics means that honesty and honor have carried the day. There will just be another Rod and Sal Show down the road, until three reforms are initiated.
The Rod and Sal Show will come to end when complete and comprehensive public financing of elections is instituted; when lobbyists are limited by strict rules of conduct; and when tough ethics laws are passed that scare the living daylights out of politicians. So far all that these corruption scandals have done is create a talk radio bonanza, but no real reform that will take money out of the political arena. Until politics and money are separated and politicians have no opportunity to feed at the public trough, then the Rod and Sal Show will continue in reruns.