Toward the end of the nineteenth century, political corruption had gotten out of hand. The industrial revolution provided the incentive, and the means, for capitalists to bribe office holders. Businessmen could receive special benefits if they greased the right palms.
Big city bosses also got in on the act. By pandering to immigrants, they could control the ballot box and, in turn, the graft available for delivering social services. In New York, for instance, boss Tweed and his henchmen scooped up thousands by appropriating money intended to build a courthouse.
Things got so bad that there was a reaction. The goo-goo’s, that is, the good government types, and the muckrakers exposed many of these shenanigans. They made it known that Rockefeller was getting kickbacks from the railroads and that meatpackers were including rat feces in their products.
The outrage was national. Progressives, often at the urging of journalists, demanded reform. It was time for politicians to stop buying votes. It was essential that laws protect ordinary citizens from being cheated.
So well did the correctives succeed that by the end of the twentieth century belief in the integrity of the system was widespread. As a consequence, people became less vigilant. The media, in particular, became more concerned with promoting their ideological commitments than defending against corruption.
Liberal politicians eventually became exempt from harsh scrutiny. Because they were perceived as the good guys, they were allowed to get away with serious infractions. They could lie about what they were doing with impunity and injure their opponents without fear of the spotlight.
The adventures of Bill and Hillary Clinton provide a cautionary tale. Even in Arkansas, they were allowed to get away with unethical behavior. It was not for nothing that Bill was referred to as slick Willie. He could turn on his s—eating grin and reporters melted.
Lots of folks knew about Bill’s sexual peccadillos. They were aware that he used the police to recruit sexual talent. Many were also cognizant of his long-term liaison with Gennifer Flowers. They kept it quiet because they liked him and his policies.
Later, when he ran for president, reporters winked when told that he did not inhale when he tried marihuana. They likewise believed his account of staying out of the military draft. As president, they even covered for his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky. After all, it was nobody’s business but his wife’s.
Meanwhile Hillary also got a free pass. She was not as likable as Bill, but few cared to delve into her indiscretions at the Rose Law Firm. Nor did they dwell on the failures of Hillarycare or the implications of her contention that it takes a village to raise a child. As a symbol of female success, she was to be celebrated—not criticized.
The chickens, as they say, came home to roost when, as Secretary of State, Hillary broke the law and kept classified documents on a private server. More of this hanky-panky followed when she used the Clinton Foundation to facilitate pay-for-play politics. This too was evidently in a good cause.
Immoral appearances could thus be explained away. This included averting a skeptical eye when the Clinton campaign spied on Trump. What would have been a scandal of epic proportions under Richard Nixon was quickly consigned to a historical footnote.
As for Barack Obama and his acolytes, the Clintons paved the road for their sleaze. What's more, as a man perceived to be Black, Obama’s reputation needed to be protected. Were he exposed as a charlatan; this might cast aspersions on an entire race. Besides, he was as charming as Bill.
Which brings us to our current impasse. Once upon a time, journalism provided a barrier against corruption. Today its practitioners collude in covering-up a host of misdeeds. As long as the perpetrators have liberal credentials, they are exempt from critical examination.
Nonetheless, politics, because it is about power, breeds corruption. It often attracts people who attempt to get what they can. Whether their means are fair of foul, they subsequently hide their offences lest they be thwarted.
This is natural. As a result, we must be on guard. A century ago, we were. In recent years, however, many public sentinels have grown lax. This has to change. Sunshine, they say, is the best disinfectant. Let’s have more sunshine!
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University