Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Obama/Johnson Fiasco: Could Even Honest Abe Survive Today's Media Scrutiny?

The departure of Jim Johnson from the Obama campaign is a good proxy for a more general issue facing all candidates seeking national office.

Putting aside for the moment that illustrious group we call elected officials who serve in the Public Sector (PbS), is there anyone from the Private Sector (PvS) who could withstand the intense media coverage of their lives and emerge as clean and ethical as Mother Theresa?

And is that what is required nowadays?

Successful inhabitants of the PvS have often been called upon to tread a very thin line between maximizing the profitability of their enterprise and adhering to a strict and obvious moral code of ethics. Often a deal can only be made if a couple of toes briefly cross that line and dip into the water of moral ambiguity, the rationale often being "business is business."

We're not talking about egregious violations of ethics, let alone violations of the law. Those certainly are, ipso facto, disqualifiers for government service. And this piece has nothing whatever to do with Johnson specifically.

What rational person, which the PvS is largely composed of, unlike the PbS, what rational person would want all their actions scrutinized by a bunch of gotcha-journalists?

I'm reminded of a story that Lincoln allegedly told about himself.

He told the story to a young aide. Lincoln told this young man that when he--Lincoln--was a State Legislator in Illinois he was visited in his by a representative of a railroad company because there was a bill before the Legislature that could prove to be a windfall to the railroad if it passed. Lincoln was on record opposing the bill.

The railroad guy took a seat across from Lincoln at the great man's desk and began talking. "I understand that you do not favor the bill. I also understand that State Legislators are not very well paid, the railroad understands that as well....So, I've been authorized to make a contribution to you in the amount of $5000 cash, to show how much my company would appreciate your support."

Lincoln sat silent, staring at the man.

"Of course, $5000 doesn't go very far in these times, so, in addition, we have already printed 10000 shares in our company registered in your name...."

Lincoln sat silent. Not a word did he say.

"Oh...I almost forgot," said the railroad guy, "we've also opened a bank account for you in Switzerland and await your word before we deposit $25000 in gold into that account...."

Suddenly Lincoln jumped out of his chair, strode around his desk, grabbed the railroad man by the scruff of his neck and physically ejected him from the office.

"Why, Mr. President," the young aide asked, "did you take action at that particular moment?"

Lincoln smiled at the young man and said simply, "Because he was getting too close to my price."

No comments: