Higgins: In The Absence Of Proof To The ContraryWritten by Tim Higgins | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Governor Rod Blogojevich was found guilty of 17 of the 20 charges against him in court this week, and is likely to spend at least a decade in prison. And while the potential maximum of around 300 years (which might be time enough to bring his haircut back into fashion) is raising some eyebrows, the interesting thing about the verdict is the lack of discernible outrage at the concept that a sitting Governor might have tried to sell an appointment to the United States Senate for cash or political favor.
Oh sure, we can all give the Monty Python ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge’, shake our heads, and smile knowingly over the situation. After all, this is ‘Chicago Politics’, and Rod’s predecessors in the Governor’s mansion from George Ryan, to Dan Walker both did time. In fact we can go all the way back to Gov. Len Small who was indicted in office in the 1920′s and gave state jobs to eight of the jurors in his trial after being acquitted of charges of corruption to show how commonplace such depraved behavior is in the Land of Lincoln. The laissez faire attitude towards it is something else however, and extends far beyond Illinois and its governors.
Who among us was terribly surprised when Congressman William Jefferson was indicted on 16 charges of corruption in 2007 and convicted of 11 of them in 2009 after $90,000 was seized from his freezer by federal agents. (No jokes about cold, hard cash … please.) After all, Mr. Jefferson was from Louisiana; another state with a long tradition of payoffs and government corruption. Larry Craig, a Senator from Idaho (with no such tradition), was likewise arrested in 2007 in a bathroom in the Minneapolis airport from suspicion of lewd behavior. And while Craig protested his innocence and managed to serve out the rest of his term even after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, his reputation was tarnished beyond repair and he did not run for re-election. Most recently, Congressman Anthony Weiner of NY was forced to resign from office; not for doing anything illegal, but simply perhaps from a lack of moral rectitude. But these must be the extremes, and not representative of the day-to-day behavior of our elected representatives.
Who then is shocked to hear that legislators regularly cast what they know will be meaningless votes on one side of an issue for little more that the opportunity to posture politically? How many of us are sickened by the fact that politicians begin fund raising and campaigning for re-election the day after winning one? Who is outraged that legislators place party over principle (or constituents) when casting their votes?
Take out the personalities of government, and still the decay and filth remains. Who of us is surprised to hear admissions from both sides of the aisle that existing government programs are filled with waste and fraud? Who is alarmed to discover that much of the legislation passed at every level of government best serves special interests groups from oil companies on one side to the ecological warriors who contest with them on the other; rather than those that legislators were sent to serve?
Strangely enough however, there is an almost complete lack of moral outrage over this apparent underlying current of corruption in government these days. In fact, there is an almost blanket acceptance of the existence of the crooked, depraved, and tainted nature of the process. How can such systematic debauchery and perfidious behavior be so taken for granted in that which was designed to provide us from freedom from the abridgment of freedom? How can such systematic treachery have grown from an ideal of government as a beacon of moral rectitude?
You know, we have a tradition in our judicial system of an presumption of innocence until guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. I suspect however, that where government is concerned, we have at last abandoned even the pretext that politics in this country is not now beyond redemption. One can make no other assumption when considering the apparent level of calm with which we accept the current smorgasbord of treachery that we blithely concede to the system. For is not one of the definitions of such presumption that we take it for granted as being true, in the absence of proof to the contrary.