No Room for Mistakes
Even a saint wouldn't survive today's 24-hour news cycle
by Alan Chartock
Why would anyone in their right mindrun for political office?The way I figure it, you have got tobe nuts to want to be a congressman,state legislator or mayor in this tabloidridden,24-hour, "gotcha" news environment.Let's face it: The hypocrisy ofthe people going after our politicians isextraordinary.
It seems to me that even a saintcouldn't make it. Just ask yourself, "Isthere anything I may have done at anypoint in my life that I wouldn't want tosee blown out of proportion?" Did yousmoke pot? Did you have premarital sexwith a woman or man who may haveturned out to be a bit of a stalker? Dida bunch of frat brothers talk you intovisiting a house of ill repute? Did yourwife, husband or children ever do somethingyou wouldn't want to read about ina newspaper? Have you hired someoneto clean your house who may not havebeen a citizen?
In the old days, a Roosevelt or anEisenhower or a Kennedy could findsome solace with a love interest and theword was out: "Stand clear, we don'tget involved in people's personal lives."Then everything changed. Make a mistakenow and you might as well be sittingon a bundle of dynamite.It's particularly extraordinarythat, even with all ofthis scrutiny, there are politicianswho do things that areso stupid they should havetheir heads examined. Someof them sell their offices tothe highest bidder. Some havework done on their homes bycontractors in return for favorsfrom the office holder. Some putno-show people on their payrolls.Some do absolutely nothingwrong but are screwed tothe wall by a press that doesn'tmind destroying a good humanbeing.
It is those who actually dobreak the rules that I hold incontempt. There is a great deal
of power in these offices. One contractcan mean millions of dollars to a businesssupplicant. The politicians whobreak the rules are masters of rationalization-they believe that they are soimportant that the money they can bringin is owed to them by a public that shouldbe grateful.They ask how they can be expectedto live on the paltry salary that theyare paid. They have to raise hundredsof thousands-sometimes millions-of dollars to even run for an officethat pays a small fraction of what theyhave raised. If there are any among uswho haven't read Faust, The Devil andDaniel Webster or Damn Yankees, I suggestyou do so to understand how theseunfortunate but greedy souls tick.Sooner or later, they have to paythe piper.
We've seen all kinds ofschemes. Some of these people setup not-for-profit organizations andinstall their families and friends asofficers. Some get jobs for theirchildren and then guarantee themgovernment business. I suspectthey do stupid things because they have
always gotten away with them. Whenthey finally get caught for seriously goingover the line, they are amazed.
It is illegal to enter into a contract,verbal or written, that says, "If youdo this for me, I will deliver becauseof my government position." Youmean to tell me they don't know thateventually, someone will throw themunder the bus to a district attorneyto get off the hook? We all see themhauled away in handcuffs, yet othersgo ahead and do the same thing, as ifthey are immune.
It is a pinball game. Sooner or later,you either lose or you bang the machineso hard it goes "tilt." Like I said, you'dhave to be out of your mind to play thatgame.
Alan S. Chartock is president and
CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio
and an executive publisher at The
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