John Edwards will stand trial this week. Four years ago, he was a primary or two from competing for the highest office in the land.
Edwards made politics look easy. Nice suit. Great hair. Bright smile. Kind face. Promise the world--or, at least whatever it takes to get elected. Once in office, he chose to live by a wholly different set of standards.
Could Edwards have pursued and performed other professions in the same effective yet decidedly dishonest fashion?
Depends on the profession.
Becoming a doctor is a different matter altogether. Doctors cannot promise to move heaven and earth. Then, after having failed to do so, use sophistry and half-truths to win back patients' hearts.
Doctors utilize understatement. Then, they are judged on results.
Conversely, success is politics is largely determined by what you say and how you say it. Still, the differences don't end there.
First, one must gain entrance to medical school. Then, students endure rigorous four to six year programs that test their mettle at every turn.
Upon graduation, students take the Hippocratic Oath. The oath requires doctors to promise that they will do their best to practice medicine ethically, and in the best interest of patients.
Only then does one receive a license to legally practice medicine.
Recently, I read that Dutch bankers may soon have to swear to a similar oath. One requiring them to put their clients' interests first.
The laws, rules and regulations governing the means by which we are free to conduct our lives are no less important. They rank right up there with health and money as the most important items with which each of us will contend as we navigate our lives.
So, doctors must swear an oath to practice. And bankers may soon have to swear a similar oath. Should not our politicians have to swear an oath before they are given the right to establish laws? Amend the constitution? Govern our nation's legal, educational, medical, technological, diplomatic, military and energy infrastructures?
Of course, politics was once a temporary pursuit practiced by honorable men notable experience.
Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was a Roman aristocrat, political figure and hero of the Republic. He served as consul, soldier and dictator. His service was notable for, among other attributes, his immediate resignation upon the achievement of the formidable tasks he'd be asked to complete.
He was once called from his farm to serve as Rome's dictator (the second time he'd done so) when the republic had been invaded by enemies. Upon defeating the invaders, he immediately resigned and returned to his farm.
Contrast the story of Cincinnatus with today's politicians. Men and women who gain office by scandalizing their opponents as best they can. Once in office, they do everything in their power to remain. Building vast networks of wealthy donors who are granted favors in return for their contributions. They lecture the public on how it should conduct its existence. All the while, they hold themselves to a different standard.
Our politicians utilize a separate healthcare system. They receive better pension benefits than do private sector employees. And often, when in legal hot water, their problems are handled in ways that John Q. Public could never rely upon. Problems disappear. Arrests are suppressed. Illicit affairs are forgiven. And that's just Edward Kennedy.
Today's politicians have only one standard which truly dictates success: how much access does one have to monetary resources capable of keeping donors satisfied, their fiefdoms in place and their problems at bay.
The contest is not how to accomplish as much as possible, so much as it is how to remain for a long as possible.
Many of today's politicians consider theirs to be lifetime appointments. And, once given the next job up the ladder, they do everything they can to secure their position for family or associates. American politics has become big time family business.
Why not force our lawmakers, regulators and governors to take an oath? An oath that demands their abject adherence to honest, ethical practices. To transparent activities conducted in the public's best interest. To doing their jobs without the intentions of seeking wealth, favors and influence.
Outside of term limits, which might be the most effective step in saving our republic, such an oath might have a positive effect in our ability to remove those who do not adhere to their promises.
An oath requiring the repeal of hypocrisy in our nations' political offices may help to purge the Goat Rodeos currently transpiring in D.C. as well as in state capitals throughout the nation.
Till then, we'll get what we deserve. Candidates who will say absolutely anything to attain office. And then do absolutely anything to remain.
Anthony Weiner. John Edwards. Eliot Spitzer. Gary Condit. Jim McGreevy. Rod Blagojevich. Tom Delay. Larry Craig. Mark Foley. All ages. Both parties. Ad infinitum.
We are human. We make mistakes. We deserve forgiveness. But, like doctors, attorneys, nurses, financial planners (and Danish bankers), if you cannot live up to the standards of your position, you should step down. Not waste countless tax payer dollars attempting to remain in office. Yet, our politicians are given too much wiggle room and held to too low a standard.
November's election will pit two very capable, flawed individuals against each other. Everything they have ever said, done or thought will be available for your dissection. Yet, as in all elections, what these two promise in the heat of battle will bear little resemblance to that which is delivered on the post-electoral buffet table.
Perhaps Newt Gingrich, himself a supremely bright, capable and flawed politician, most aptly summed up our November choice--not to mention our political process, when he recently said: "Would voters rather hear a comfortable and familiar set of lies eloquently repeated by a lifelong politician who has proven himself phenomenally ineffective at actually accomplishing anything or a fresh new set of ever-shifting lies delivered by a gaffe prone, part-time politician who has spent most of his career outside of Washington getting rich by methodically achieving his objectives?"
Cynical indeed. But beneath a cynical surface lay a harsh reality. Recognizable for its truth, as well as its unpleasantness.
Public service will always be conducted by less-than-perfect public servants. Yet, it should at least be conducted in the best interests of the public. Perhaps an oath would better align that which is promised with that which is done. Help to purge the system of some of its hypocrisy.
Till then, we freely choose to defer our liberties to a less than adequate system. And this epidemic of cynicism only worsens. More Blagojevich, less Cincinnatus. Until, someday, the cynicism remains the only part of the process our children recognize.