We tackled the topic of American cultural literacy last night at Socrate’s Cafe and, as always, the topic immediately turned to politics.
A gentleman quoted Patrick Fitzgerald (the attorney involved in the Blagovich scandal) saying that “there is a fine line between politics and criminality.” Extend this to gross generalizations about all politicians and you begin to see the tone of the discussion. He asked whether anyone looking at the American political system from outside would see anything other than criminality.
I replied that there is always a fine line between criminal and non-criminal behavior. One day, Bernard Madoff was running a profitable hedge-fund and the next he was the ringleader of a Ponzi scheme.
My point was twofold. First, I believe there is nothing in politics that makes it an inherently criminal activity. Second, criminality is an ex post facto label that we use to describe behavior that we have rejected as wrong, usually for societal reasons. Sadly I don’t think my argument made a lot of headway. I keep feeling as though I’m talking at orthogonal angles to all the people around me.
Far too many people believe or hope that “good leadership” will get us out of the mess that we are currently in, but an even more pernicious belief is assuming that all politicians are criminal. There are many things wrong with our political system but rampant criminality is not one of them. Just look into the problems faced by Africa over the last 50 years and I think you’ll see that America has a lot of problems to worry about but rampant political criminality is not one of them.