This is a column by registered Democrat Charlie Reese; it struck an old, familiar chord.
If there were any honor at CBS, then both the president of the news division and Dan Rather would resign. They, not the underlings who have been fired, are responsible for what goes on the air — in this case, the claims about the president's National Guard duty based on phony papers.
It's a pitiful excuse when the bosses claim that their employees deceived them when it's the bosses, not the employees, who have the final say. This behavior, however, is typical of corporate America.
We live in an age when the rich and powerful substitute good lawyers and good public-relations specialists for good character. It was not always so in America. There was a time when a man's honor meant more than his life.
One of the most intriguing characters in American history is Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy. Stephens was a shriveled little man and a notorious hypochondriac, though nevertheless a brilliant lawyer and an outstanding orator. After the war, he was elected governor of Georgia and got into a dispute with another individual.
Needless to say, the other individual towered over Stephens, who was less than 5 feet tall and never weighed more than 91 pounds. They got into a knife fight, and in no time, the larger man had Stephens flat on his back, with the blade of his bowie knife at the little man's throat.
"Retract, damn you, or I'll cut your throat," the man growled.
"Cut it," said Stephens.
Fortunately for Stephens, bystanders intervened, but the point is that Stephens' word meant more to him than his life. He had told the truth, and he would die rather than retract it. There might be one or two men in Washington who would react the same way under similar circumstances, but the majority would probably change their tunes faster than a jazz musician can play two notes.
I have long argued that lobbyists should not be blamed, as editorial writers are inclined to do, for corrupting politicians. The lobbyist can only ask and offer; it is the public official who consents and accepts. When politicians sell their votes, they are just demonstrating that they were dishonorable people long before they got into public office. The only difference is that in private life, they didn't have anything to sell.
Furthermore, the lobbyist's loyalty is only to his client; it is the politician who has sworn to be loyal to the Constitution and to the people who elected him or her. The betrayer of public trust is the politician, not the special interests.
You would think that with the nation as overcrowded as it is, we could find some better people than the 535 who do all the federal legislating. By and large, they spend most of their time bloviating, raising money and selling or trading their votes. They have voted themselves far more money and perks than they are worth, and they spend the people's hard-earned money like it was confetti.
We have come a long way since a Kansas farmer was first elected to Congress and came home and told a friend: "Why, Bob, this is wonderful job. It pays $40,000 in salary alone."
Well, today it pays well in excess of $100,000 "in salary alone," and members of Congress have, in another dishonorable act, voted to get cost-of-living raises every year. They have the best pension system in the Milky Way galaxy.
Honor, as a screenwriter once had a character say, is a gift a man gives to himself. You cannot eliminate dishonesty, a lack of ethics or bad character with legislation. If the American people, by and large, are dishonest or at least apathetic about corruption, then so be it. We are never going to have a government better than ourselves.
And by the way, you can have one of those plush jobs, provided you can raise $300,000 or so for a House seat or several millions of dollars for a Senate seat. We ought to ask ourselves: When does a democracy get so expensive that it's no longer a democracy.
So sad that "character" has gone out of style.