THE MADNESS OF POWERFUL MEN
Alas, I fear the feminist mantra may be true: Testosterone causes brain damage. How else to explain so many guys drooling over a self-proclaimed pitbull with lipstick when so much is at stake? To what, otherwise, might we attribute the moral corruption, bad judgment and lack of impulse control so prevalent among politicians large and small?
I was out of the country when the news broke about John Edwards' affair. It staggered me. (I'm not sure why. His vanity was evident.) The sliminess of it was, of course, exaggerated by the fact that he did it while his much admired wife Elizabeth was battling cancer, remission or not. His confessions aside, here was yet another macho man joining the ranks of the rank.
It just goes on and on and on. Clinton and all those other presidents before him; Spitzer, McCain in his past life -- but let me spare you the complete roll call. The point is that you put twelve powerful men together in a room and I'm betting at least ten of them have brushed up against some kind of political or moral corruption.
Here are but a few examples that might have slid by you. Chicago city clerk Jim Laski has been indicted for corruption. Kwame Kilpatrick, mayor of Detroit, has been convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice. James West, mayor of Spokane, Wa., was recently exposed (no pun intended) for Internet sex escapades. And of course there is Ted Stevens of Alaska who is up against the wall for his pork barrel politics.
Not that this kind of corruption is to be found only in political spheres. It's rampant in business circles too. Two CEOs and nine other ex-executives from Siemens AG, the engineering and electronics giant, have been cited recently for kickbacks on foreign contracts. Then there is Halliburton, Black Water, and UBS.
Nor is power sleaze confined to the U.S. In Bulgaria, the head of the country's road agency resigned in a corruption scandal involving a no-bid contract he gave to his brother's company for road repairs. Israel's Ehud Olmert has just been indicted for fraud and bribery. And in The Philippines whistleblower Rudolfo Lozada, Jr. revealed government corruption to the tune of $330 million for a dicey contract between the government and a Chinese Internet firm. (Indonesia may take the prize for political corruption. It is so rampant there the daily newspapers are consumed by it.)
Of course, corruption is not reserved for the male domain. Grace Saenz-Lopez, mayor of Alice, Texas secretly kept her neighbor's dog after caring for the animal for several days and pretended it had died; apparently she'd grown fond of the little critter. Small potatoes, but a dishonest act nonetheless. No doubt there are larger scandals to be uncovered among powerful women. (Think Mrs. First Dude, for example.) But put a dozen of them in a room together and I doubt you'd top six or seven who might need to be sent packing.
So what is it? Recent news reports suggest that men may be genetically predisposed to certain addictions, like sex, for example. Could be, I guess. But I find it hard to believe that there is a corruption gene, or bad judgment genes, or anything else in our congenital makeup that leads to gross dishonesty and compulsive self-sabotage. Then there are theories floating around about the collective crisis of the subconscious male mind, a sort of Jungian analysis for the 21st century. Fair enough, I suppose, but my own theory is that male maladaptive behavior has more to do with being unconscious, or being without conscience than it does with being Poor Them.
I really don't pretend to know what is at the root of so much bad taste and poor performance although I do think power is deeply corruptive irrespective of country, culture or gender. I just wish it weren't so. I wish the bad boys (and girls) didn't always make it to the top (although I'm often guilty of taking perverse pleasure in their falls from grace.) I wish there really was a high road, and that we'd all try to travel that path. I wish that kind of wish didn't sound so naïve.
Most of all right now, in this most critical of political times, I wish we could focus on truth and not tall tales, on what is transparent and not trivial, and on what really counts instead of on cooptation, faux courage, and inordinate amounts of self-congratulation.
The corruptions of this world, large and small, are worrisome and no doubt will always be there. But in the coming weeks, we cannot allow them to defeat us. We must look to that high road, precipitous as it may be, and cling to the roots that once made us admirable among nations. The goodness that is inherent in our political history must prevail now more than ever, even as pitbulls (of either gender) nip at our heels.