I read this week that “disgraced” New York Congressman Anthony Weiner is pondering a run for mayor of New York City.
I was dumbfounded.
I didn’t know it was possible to be “disgraced” in America anymore.
In case you weren’t paying attention (and who would blame you?) this particular member of the U.S. House of Representatives resigned after admitting he had texted a photograph of his male anatomy to someone.
That news item was solid gold for the late-night comedy shows for weeks before he stepped down and, finally, fell out of the headlines.
But Congressman Weiner’s shame wasn’t any worse than what’s come out (sorry) on dozens of other leaders.
Former President Bill Clinton, now a respected elder statesman, toughed it out after the world learned he’d not only fooled around with an intern, but lied about it under oath.
Ultimately, the prosecutor took more heat than the president.
That’s less and less surprising in a country where stars and starlets now win not shame, but fame, by letting a sex video find its way to the Internet.
I remember a Miss America who stepped down after embarrassing photos from her earlier days were published. These days, she’d get her own reality show and a spread in People. A couple of minor arrests, a few assaults on the papparrazi and a spectacularly failed marriage or two, and lasting fame is guaranteed.
But I’m not talking about entertainers – I’m talking about our leaders.
For sure, there are still ways to get banished from public life, but most of them involve being politically incorrect (and even the worst offense will still make you a hero in some subculture, somewhere in America).
Some of us look for ways to connect all these dots.
Prosecutors and public officials getting gunned down from Colorado to Kaufman. A strip-club owner going to prison for putting out a “hit” on the mayor of Arlington. Metal detectors and searches in public buildings – a level of security unimaginable a few decades ago.
Public service used to command respect. Now that respect has to be enforced.
The perception these days is that government is corrupt, unable to get anything done because politicians are too busy feathering their own nests.
That’s mostly false.
Wise County is blessed to have many honorable and dedicated public officials who have a real desire to serve, to make things better. They work hard at it.
But you tend to hear more about the minority – the ones who violate the public’s trust, flaunt the law, defend the indefensible and expect people to vote for and support them anyway.
It only takes a few of those to give the whole profession a bad name. And we’ve had a few, over the years.
We tend to crack jokes and make light of it (I mean, seriously, Congressman Weiner?) but the long-term result is deadly serious.
The fact is, you reap what you sow. That’s a law of nature, inevitable and unchangeable. No matter how much we spin, edit, doctor and manage, a few people’s actions come back on us all.
You don’t have to look far to see how that plays out.
In Mexico, for decades, many public officials were on the take. Bribery was a way of life. Incompetence and corruption reigned while everyone winked and looked the other way.
But at some point that beautiful country fell into such corruption that drug cartels routinely gun down sheriffs, police chiefs, mayors and governors who dare oppose them. How do you get to that point?
I’m pretty sure it was gradual. And the USA may be on the same track.
Raise up enough dishonorable public servants, and respect for public service itself starts to erode. People lose interest in voting or running for office. Public service becomes the butt of jokes. I’ve made a few myself.
But it isn’t funny.
I don’t know how many bad meals a restaurant has to serve before it goes out of business, but there is a number. It’s quantifiable, and it’s inevitable.
Bad government has a number too.
This country desperately needs parents who teach their children to respect the leaders of our cities, our school districts, our states and our nation.
Just as desperately, we need leaders who are worthy of that respect.
Because we will all reap what they sow.
Bob Buckel is executive editor of the Wise County Messenger.