Number Twelve

– Scandal And The Body Politic –

Greetings from the Heretic Ranch!  I am the Cowboy Heretic and I will be your docent as we trek through the corridors of mirth and mayhem, the objective and the subjective, the profound and the pointless.

As old as government itself, scandals continue to intrigue, entertain, and disgust the casual and dedicated observer alike within the body politic. From the carnal and fiscal excesses of Caligula Caesar’s Rome to the multitudinous indiscretions of the Clinton White House, few, if any, generations go untouched by the fetid hand of political scandal.

A detailed review of specific scandals is, for the purpose of this essay, unnecessary. The heart of the issue at hand is the nature of political scandal, its causes and, hopefully, its cure.

What is it that makes for a good scandal? Treachery? Deceit? Sex? Any of these and more will do the trick. What is it that makes this type of activity more important, more meaningful in a politician than if the same set of circumstances occurred in the life of Joe Sixpack, a plumber living in Boise, Idaho? Whereas the aforementioned Mr. Sixpack might have to endure the tongue wagging of the locals because he listed several questionable exemptions on his federal income tax return, it seldom bears any resemblance to the volleys launched at a Boise city councilman guilty of the same charge.

Scandals generate various levels of interest in the public, providing ammunition for water cooler philosophers and a place of moral high ground for the average person, knowing that, “it’s okay if I make mistakes, heck…everybody does, even those in authority are, after all, only human.” What characterizes and defines the pertinence of questionable action in a politician (or any so-called leader, for that matter) is the fact that, right or wrong, leaders are held to a higher standard.

Do I advocate the lowering of ethical and moral standards for those in positions of power? Absolutely not! If anything, standards should be even higher than they are now, not only for politicians, but for the public in general. Let’s face it: something has got to change! Let me also make clear that I in no way support the legislation of morality or ethics beyond the basic Constitutional rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the ownership of property. In all arenas, political, social, and spiritual, the cream will always rise to the top if there are no artificial hindrances to achievement and no rewards for mediocrity. Back to the issue at hand: if standards are raised as I propose, won’t this just exacerbate the problem of public trust, making it even more difficult to find men and women capable and willing to perform public service? Won’t the painfully apparent lack of qualified candidates just serve to further numb the electorate’s senses and increase the lack of faith in the efficacy of the system and its overseers? If all other things remain the same then, yes, this modification of standards would be of no benefit. What I propose, however, is a far more subtle and far more insidious to the status quo.

For the sake of argument, let us not raise the standard by which we judge our leaders. (Admittedly, these “standards” of which I speak are nebulous at best.) If current standards remain the same, what other course of action can be taken to simultaneously increase the trust in government and its operating efficiency, consequently reducing the impact of any activity that could be classified as scandalous?

Ultimately, the problem is not in the standard to which a bureaucrat or elected official is held. The root of the problem lies in the amount of authority, the amount of supervisory power with which we invest these officials. We ask, no, demand things of our government that as recently as 50 years ago were unheard of. What we have forgotten is that, in a Constitutional Republic (contrary to popular belief, the United States of America is not now, nor was it ever intended to be a democracy), the brunt of the responsibility for the governing of day to day life rests squarely on the shoulders of the individuals that comprise said Republic. To delegate personal authority to someone or something else is to emasculate the intent of a government by the people and for the people, setting up a system that requires nothing less than canonized saints to oversee it. Considering the responsibilities placed on any elected government big shot, a person would need to possess the strength of Superman, the stamina of a triathlete and the moral fiber of Moses himself to be worthy of the duties with which they are charged. Reduce the level of responsibility placed on Congressman X and effectively reduce the impact to which any indiscretion on his part affects the lives of those around him. The only problem with this approach to government lies in the restructuring of the power base; if the responsibility is to be removed from the leaders, then where will the slack be taken up? It has to return to where it originally belonged: to the individual members of our society. Sadly, very few are desirous of the acceptance of any personal responsibility. Therein lies the conundrum: Those with power do not wish to relinquish it, while those who have surrendered power do not wish to reclaim it.

The bestowing of almost limitless power upon our leaders, be they elected, bureaucratic, or clergy, is a proven recipe for disaster. Power abdicated is power lost in perpetuity. The significance and impact of scandalized leaders can only be reduced by lessening the significance and impact of the power these leaders hold. This can only be achieved through a conscious choice of the electorate to repossess its own power and assume responsibility for its own destiny.

Yeah. That’ll happen.

(This column is taken from the author’s book DIRTY LITTLE GODS: THE MUSINGS, RANTS, AND RAVINGS OF A HERETIC published by Enright House Press, 2004.)

Billy Flying Red Horse

Published in: on July 9, 2009 at 12:05 am  Leave a Comment  

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