How Do You Measure Integrity?

The term "kleptocracy" is applied to a government that extends the personal wealth and political power of its own officials and the ruling class via the embezzlement of state funds at the expense of the wider population, sometimes without even the pretense of honest service. That sounds pretty close to what we have in America today.

Have you ever seen so much in-your-face corruption being dangled in front of you? It's as though elective office were an entitlement which, once achieved, gave the holder veto power over the laws the rest of us must abide by. Just about every week, there's another news article about some elected or appointed official caught using his influence to rip off the American public. We can assume that there are many more that just haven't been caught yet.

But let's also assume that the majority of our elected reps are honest. We also can conclude that they are at least as aware of the crooks among them, as we are. Yet how often do we hear one of them speak out against their corrupt colleagues? Even after one of those bums gets arrested and indicted, there's a suspicious silence among those who have worked with, and probably partied with, the crooks.

When William Jefferson, the Louisiana congressman who got caught by the FBI with ninety grand in his freezer, was arrogantly running for reelection, did anyone hear an elected official criticize him for his moral turpitude? Surely, one congressman could have taken to the floor of the House and given a verbal thrashing to the man who made the term "cold cash" a punchline on the late-night comedy shows.

When California Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham was able to buy a $2.5 million mansion, a yacht, a Rolls-Royce, and a condo in suburban Washington, why didn't it sound an alarm to at least some of the other 434 members of the House? They knew more than anyone else that such luxuries are not obtainable on an annual salary of $160,000. Cunningham sat on a powerful subcommittee that approves billions of dollars in spending for defense programs. Did it take too much detective work for his colleagues to figure out that his larcenous largess was a reward for his influence?

Keep in mind that his co-workers at the Capitol are some of the most educated people in the country, and a majority of them are lawyers. They're not exactly the type of people who are easily fooled by such obvious perfidy concerning one's oath of office. It seems to me that their failure to blow the whistle on the malevolent renegades in their midst makes them accessories during and after the fact. No, not legally, but certainly morally.

It's not as though we don't hear our esteemed reps blasting the excesses of the business community. When a corporate executive is awarded a hefty bonus or a golden parachute, the cries of "greedy capitalist" are either insinuated in press releases or raucously bellowed in the hallowed halls of our legislative bodies. Yet when one of their own is drinking imported champagne on a domestic beer budget, it doesn't seem to motivate our "leaders" to make their own inquiry. Instead, when one of these sticky-fingered frauds is nabbed, it's because an outside agency like the FBI has handled the probe.

In police departments, when a cop is aware of corruption but refuses to expose it or testify against it, we call it "the blue wall of silence." What's it called in the higher echelons of power? Police departments have had their Serpicos, and the Mafia had their Sammy "the Bull" Gravano, but to my knowledge, we've never seen an informer in the House or Senate.

How can the public be expected to have any confidence in the government or the system of laws generated by that once-august body if the good people inside refuse to expose the bad? The idea that someone who "drops a dime" on a thief is going to be known as a "rat" is a childish admonishment. It may have been acceptable in grammar school, but it has no relevance in adulthood...that is, unless everyone has a closet full of skeletons is therefore afraid that exposure of others will lead to his or her own undoing. The cop who's been getting away with taking bribes is not about to publicly condemn another cop who is under indictment for the same crime. Therefore, unless there's some kind of unwritten law that says you can't "tattle" on people who you know are corrupt, it must be that you are as guilty as they are. Refusal to address evil while pretending to be good is an example of cognitive dissonance, and it, like conscience, makes cowards of its subscribers.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  E-mail Bob.