Thursday, May 26, 2005

Why it matters

You get the impression that dishonesty in government isn't a big deal to a lot of people. So they misappropriated a few (hundred) million. So what?
That's bunk.
Honesty is the first -- the first -- thing that any government owes the people it is supposed to serve. (That's right, government serves the people, not the other way around.)
Now, on matters of national security (not security of the ruling political party), I would not expect that government to divulge its secrets. I would not expect it to flat-out lie to me and would be highly ticked off if it did.
But on all other matters, I expect honesty from government. And when honesty is not forthcoming, when thievery is the rule, I don't give a hoot about any other matter. That government has got to get the boot.
Small-c conservatives tend to think and act that way. It was the small-c conservatives who finally convinced Nixon that he had to resign (Barry Goldwater, one of the great 20th century political figures, was in the party that told Tricky Dick that he had no chance.) It was the small-c and capital-C conservatives that gave Mulroney the heave-ho.
If you don't have honesty, you don't have trust. When you don't have trust, you have nothing else going, no matter what your policy stances may be. How can we believe you on these things when you lie and steal?
My personal animus against corruption goes back to something that happened almost 50 years ago, when I was a wee lad.
My grandfather -- my mom's father -- was a coal hauler in the anthracite fields of northeastern Pennsylvania (the only anthracite coal in the world, I might add). He delivered coal from the breakers to homes and businesses, since anthracite coal was the primary heating fuel there at the time.
(Aside: Anthracite coal is very clean-burning as opposed to bituminous coal, which was a primary source of air pollution. Anthracite is a lot harder and burns a lot cleaner. Nowadays, though, it's tough to get. Most of the easy pickin's have been picked and deep-mining is becoming cost-prohibitive.)
Anyway, my grandfather had the contract to supply our little town's school with coal... until the year that the school board president asked him to dump a couple of tons of coal in his bin and put it on the school's tab.
My grandfather refused.
The next year, he didn't have the contract... even though, by that time, he was the only hauler who actually lived in our little town and it had been the school board's policy for years and years to spend what it could in our town. It wasn't any kind of multi-million dollar deal; probably didn't even reach the $10,000 mark. Still, the school was his single biggest customer.
He never got the contract again.
A few years later, the state ordered all the small-town school districts to merge into larger regional districts. So our school district went into the history books. As a single-truck operation (himself), he had no chance of competing for the regional district's contract. There's no way he could have handled supplying the 18 buildings that now comprised the district. He had to hustle his butt off to make up for the loss he took.
I learned about the story when I was in high school. That's when I dropped my first WTF in front of my mother and got a royal lecture about it (though my dad later said my reaction was a correct one).
Fast forward to the mid-1970s. The same thief who had tried to get my grandfather to give him coal on the school district's dime (translation: the taxpayers' money) and some of his fellow board members were charged with extortion and bribery for pulling the same kind of stuff that the one "gentleman" had tried to pull on my grandfather.
At the time, I was a radio disc jockey at a small station about an hour from home. Now, at a small radio station you do it all -- you run your own control board, you cut commercials, you read the news and sports... etc. etc. etc. I was on the air when a bulletin came over the wire about the "gentleman" and his friends. I let out such a whoop that my boss came downstairs to see what was going on.
"You all right?" he asked.
"Wonderful," I replied as I showed him the story.
"Good. You can read that one in the 5:00 news (I co-anchored that extended report with my boss.)"
What pleasure it was!
I called home.
"Hello." It was my dad.
"They got the bastards, eh?"
"Yeah." He laughed. Long and hard.
Later, my mom told me that my grandfather, who wasn't much for any kind of outbursts in his later years, immediately looked skyward and said "Thank you" when he heard the news.
So when you talk about tolerating corruption with me, don't be surprised if I go off on you. I've seen first-hand what corruption is like.
And I don't like it one little bit.