By Rev. Peter Marshall
I’m worried about my country.
The corruption in our political life is just massive. And I have no doubt that it is just as bad in the business world. Now, you might want to respond that it has always been like this, that the world is always a corrupt place, and what do you expect, etc. But, I’m sorry, I just can’t buy that. In my view, there is more blatant corruption in the body politic than I can ever remember in my lifetime.
The latest and most egregious example is the sickening spectacle of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich trying to literally sell Barack Obama’s now vacant U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder. Blagojevich has been under Federal investigation for at least three years for alleged hiring fraud, and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald read profanity-laced quotes from the Governor’s phone conversations that left no doubt about the his corruption. “I’ve got this thing (the opportunity to appoint a Democrat Senator to take Obama’s place) and it’s (expletive) golden, and I’m just not giving it up for (expletive) nothing. I’m not gonna do it.” The FBI’s evidence indicated that overheard phone conversations revealed that what the Governor had in mind was selling the Senate seat for half-million or million dollar campaign contributions, or $250-300,000 jobs for himself, or comparable paying jobs for his real estate agent wife, Patti. In political parlance, it’s called “pay to play.” If you want to have influence in Illinois politics, you have to cough up the cash. “I want to make money,” said the Governor, whose salary is $177,412. Apparently, that’s not money as far as he’s concerned.
The authorities making the announcement of the arrest to the press said that Blagojevich was hoping to raise $2.5 million by the end of the year, and had decided to speed up his “crime spree” before a state anti-corruption law takes effect on January 1.
I have written several times this year about the corruption of Chicago politics, which in the entire U.S. comes in second only to Louisiana politics. But this latest example is so brazen, so openly and defiantly corrupt that it boggles the mind. Ironically, Blagojevich had campaigned for the Governor’s office back in 2002 on a platform of cleaning up the corruption of his predecessor, George Ryan, who is serving a six year prison sentence for graft. His approval rating with the voters had become a horrendous 13 percent, but undeterred by this, he had talked of rehabilitating his image by appointing himself to the vacant Senate seat, and even had the consummate gall to talk about running for President in 2116. The only small bump in his road is a set of Federal charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and solicitation to commit bribery, which carry maximum prison penalties of 20 years and 10 years respectively.
His Chief of Staff, John Harris, was arrested with Blagojevich, and charged with taking part in the Governor’s schemes. Meanwhile, all Illinois politicians are running away from the Governor like rats fleeing the light. Cries of “resign, resign” are being heard in the land of Lincoln, while U.S. District Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald avowed that this corruption would make Lincoln “roll in his grave.”
Emmanuel Rahm, Obama’s Chief of Staff, had said earlier in response to a reporter’s question, that Obama had talked with Governor Blagojevich about possible appointees to the Senate seat, but after Obama said yesterday that he had had no contact with the Governor lately, Rahm quickly backtracked and said that he had been mistaken in what he had said. Yeah, right.
Do I think that Obama is involved in any of Blagojevich’s corruption? Probably not. He would have had to have been stupid beyond belief to have allowed himself to be tainted with the open corruption of a man known by everybody to be under Federal investigation. But, as I have said before in these commentaries, you cannot possibly have risen to the level that Obama achieved in Illinois politics without having played the corruption game to a certain extent, at least. I suspect that there is a lot of dirty linen in Obama’s closet (just as there was in Bill Clinton’s from his Arkansas Governor days), but whether it will ever see the light of day is doubtful.
Meanwhile, Governor Blagojevich gave no indication that he was about to resign, or even thinking about it. He dispatched his spokesperson, Kelley Quinn, to announce that he was going about “business as usual.” Since his usual business seems to have been corruption, I suppose we should infer from that he’s still trying to sell favors, before the Feds put him away in the slammer.
In today’s Cape Cod paper it is reported that new charges have been brought in an ongoing Federal probe of corruption at the Massachusetts Statehouse and Boston’s City Hall. Massachusetts State Senator Diane Wilkerson has pleaded not guilty to a new indictment of eight counts of attempted extortion and one count of conspiracy. In October, after an eighteen-month investigation by the FBI, she was arrested and charged with taking up to $23,000 in bribes to help the Roxbury nightclub Dejavu get a liquor license. The Bureau released a video tape of Wilkerson stuffing into her bra a wad of bribery money that she had just been handed by an FBI informant.
In the same paper I read today that Providence, RI, Mayor David Cicilline’s brother had written a bad check to the city for $75,000 on behalf of a client who owed tax money. Though the Mayor has not been charged with anything, everyone in New England knows perfectly well that Providence politics has been quite dirty as long as anyone can remember – controlled in the past for many, many years by the Mob. Perhaps it still is.
Charlie Rangel (Democrat-NY), the embattled Chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee is facing mounting allegations of corruption. The House Ethics Committee, which is usually passive and has to be goaded into action, has announced recently that it is broadening its investigation into the Congressman’s dealings. These have included, among other things, using Congressional letterhead to solicit money for his Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York, failure to pay taxes or disclose income from a $75,000 Dominican villa on which he had an interest-free mortgage, his use of rent-controlled apartments in Harlem at sub-standard rates, and the possibility that he helped to preserve a lucrative off-shore tax loophole for an oil drilling executive.
It isn’t only Democrats. Corruption and rottenness are equal opportunity employers. U.S. Senator Larry Craig (Republican-MN) has lost his attempt to withdraw his 2007 guilty plea to disorderly conduct after being arrested in a sting operation at a St. Paul International Airport men’s room. Sgt. Dave Karsnia, the arresting officer, indicated that Craig was attempting to solicit a homosexual encounter. Craig claims that he is innocent, and considering an appeal. But, it appears likely that his original plea was the truth.
It is worthy of note that the Boston Phoenix and other blogs have been keeping track of the 2008 incidents of corruption that involve Democrats. Apparently, the count is now in the mid 90’s, and could possible break 100 before year’s end.
However, the fact that so many corrupt Democrats are being exposed is certainly not anything that Republicans or conservatives can rejoice in, even though the exposure involving Democrats probably outnumbers Republican miscreants ten to one.
For myself, I cannot even muster up anger about it – I find myself filled with a great sadness. Our once proud nation has sunk to a new low in corruption throughout the political process, it seems to me.
What shall we say to all of this? I think these passages of Holy Scripture speak very plainly to our situation: Amos 5:12-16 and Isaiah 1:21-28:
“For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins – you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate. Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time. Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
“How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water. Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them. Therefore the Lord declares, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: ‘Ah, I will get relief from my enemies and avenge myself on my foes. I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy. And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.’ Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness. But rebels and sinners shall be broken together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.”
A few comments on these passages: In the Amos passage, the verse on the prudent keeping silence does not mean that we Christians are not to speak out about the corruption and evil of our time. What it means, in my view, is that we must cease all boastful, proud, vain, self-righteous, frivolous or careless speech, and watch very carefully what claims we make about ourselves. Further, to hate evil, love good, and work to establish justice in all our dealings (and for others) should be the focus of our lives, as we seek to serve the Lord Jesus. It is an evil time, and we must be sure that we are using our days wisely in the service of God’s Kingdom.
The Isaiah passage speaks strongly to the issue of corruption – that is what the verse about the silver having become dross and the wine having been mixed with water means. The precious metal has become impure, and the pure wine has become diluted. There is no moral purity.
But, the Lord promises that He will purify, when He says that He will “smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy.” Note that removing alloy is done by fire, which is not a pleasant experience to go through. Yet, I believe that is what has started to happen to America. God is determined to purify American society, and I believe that the exposure of these recent scandals is but the beginnings. There will be more to come, and it will reach into other areas of our society beyond politics.
The redeeming grace in it all, and what brings me hope, is that it is the Lord who is in charge of the whole process. A just and merciful God is wielding the broom, and for that I am thankful.
And lastly, there is a promise that there will be an end to it, an end that will bring justice and righteousness: “Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness.” Notice that His righteousness will redeem “those who repent,” so let us be sure that we come to repentance about any sins in our own lives that we read about in the newspapers or hear about on TV.