By By Craig Ziemba/guest columnist
Feb. 10, 2002
Gary Condit is running for re-election. The congressman who had an affair with an intern his daughter's age and then obstructed the investigation following her disappearance has taken a long, hard look at his future political prospects and decided that there's a good chance he could get re-elected. After all, this is America.
Americans have become notoriously faithful to those who wield power and influence to bring home the federal bacon to their own district, regardless of their character. "Sure, he's a corrupt, two-timing criminal," they say, "but he's OUR criminal." Politicians of widely known disrepute are overwhelmingly returned to office not because they are respected as leaders of integrity, but quite the contrary. They are sent to represent a district because they have political connections that will enrich key constituents. You know this is true.
Much like vassals in the feudal system of the dark ages, we voters are to kiss the ring and pledge an oath of fealty to the lord of our fiefdom in exchange for his protection. "Keep me in power," they say, "and all will be well." Most Americans, even in Mississippi, have fallen for this Mafia-style threat.
But is it true? Are we really better off returning scoundrels to office in the hopes that the seniority system will eventually pay off with chairmanships of committees and lucrative contracts trickling down to us home folks? I've heard time and again how blessed Mississippi is to have had powerful, POWERFUL politicians, and we humble voters curry their favor by naming everything in sight after them. I've yet to hear anyone brag about us having honest, HONEST politicians.
Where should our priorities as voters lie? In hushed whispers I hear people express disappointment and anger with our senior leadership, and yet when push comes to shove, these same voters return these men to power. "That's just the way it is," I'm told over and over. But that doesn't make it right. When principle is overcome by blackmail, we get the government we deserve.
What would happen to Mississippi if we threw every single corrupt politician out of power in the next election? Incumbents would have us believe that we would lose billions of federal dollars and would kill the goose that laid the golden egg. That's a convenient, self-serving argument.
But take a look around you … the egg is made of brass. Mississippi, for all of our powerful, POWERFUL politicians, ranks near dead last in everything from income to education. The huge economic boom sweeping the South has largely passed us by. We have not fared well with our current system. "Yes, but imagine how much worse it would be without my connections," the politicians worry aloud.
Let's call their bluff. Isn't it possible that a morally upright man may actually turn out to be far more powerful and beneficial to our state and country in the long run than those who are weakened by financial conflicts of interest and sex scandals?
The next time you enter the voting booth, look somewhere other than the castle for our next leader. Let's drop allegiance to party and power and vote instead for leaders of character and conviction. What do we have to lose?