IF YOU WANT TO BE CORRUPT, DO IT RIGHT
In the past few days, one of the top black politicians in the country has announced he's not running again, another has temporarily surrendered his key congressional position and a former top black politician has been stripped of all his positions on the DC city council. All because of scandals which are, by today's unfortunate standards, less than impressive.
There was a time when this would be news, but neither the media nor white liberals seem much interested in anything except excoriating these men and seeking retribution for their sins.
Which would be fair enough if they were the only politicians who misused their positions, took trips paid for by special interests, or wangled contracts for their buddies.
In fact, however, the cases of David Paterson, Charles Rangel and Marion Barry are pathetically low in the hierarchy of contemporary corruption.
Consider, for example, the recently released (but barely reported) list of presidential diplomatic appointees who previously had been bundlers for the Obama campaign.
Or consider this item a few years back from PR Watch:
"Alexander Cohen reports that non-profit groups that 'draw their members, their boards and even some of their funding from medical and pharmaceutical-related companies' paid for roughly one-third of the 3,600 sponsored trips received by hundreds of FDA employees since 1999. 'The sponsor of the most trips was the Drug Information Association, which footed the bill for more than 600 trips taken by FDA employees.'"
Or consider that the illegal drug industry is reportedly the size of the legal pharmaceutical industry, in other words one of the largest in the country. Yet, judging from the lack of media reports or prosecutions, the illegal drug industry is the only one that never makes a contribution to a politician, never lobbies for anything, and never provides under the table services.
Or consider that, measured by the size of favors delivered in return for campaign contributions, Marion Barry - now stripped of his council posts for some typical (for him) favors including a $15,000 deal - was probably Washington's least corrupt mayor of modern times. The current mayor, Adrian Fenty, has returned developer and business favors so extensively that he has become one of the few black politicians ever backed more by white voters than those of his own ethnicity. But nobody calls this bribery; it's called economic development.
I have no problem with prosecutors going after even lower level corruption, but it would be nice if the establishment, including white liberals, would be a little less sanctimonious about it all.
One of the few defenses of Marion Barry came from Harry Jaffe, a white writer for the DC Examiner. Among his arguments:
 At 73 -- after surviving the civil rights movement, a bullet from the Hanafi Muslims, 30 plus years in office, addiction to cocaine, prostate cancer and alcoholism -- Marion Barry still often comes off as the smartest, most well-versed, quickest member of the city council.
- Barry's institutional memory is deeper and wider than anyone's now in the government. Having used and abused the system for decades, he knows how it works.
- When he was first elected mayor in 1978, he opened up city hall to D.C. blacks who had been shut out of the government forever. He still makes African Americans believe they have a connection to the government, through him.
- Barry is often the only city council member who will advocate for poor folks. Whether it's job training, drug treatment or affordable housing, the Ward 8 council member will make sure his colleagues get an earful. Granted, he may be all talk and no action, but we need to be reminded of the other half.
- Democracy is an imperfect process, but voters have elected Barry time after time.
- Barry infuriates many middle class whites; he's always stickin' it to the man and getting away with it.
- He makes some of his colleagues look good, in comparison. 
There is little doubt that white liberals in Washington have long been incensed over Barry, but I'm not sure it's all that much about ethnicity. For example, they voted strongly for Obama whom they saw as of their breed in every regard save color.
Or consider the difference in how the media and liberals react to Governor Blago than they do to Eliot Spitzer. Or how the sexual misdeeds of David Letterman, Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton seem less game for ridicule than those of pols considered culturally sub-par to the liberal establishment - such as John Edwards, Paterson, or Barry.
Clinton and Edwards are an interesting example. Both were pulled out of the unclassy south by the Democratic Abandonship Council, which had the role of determining not just political, but cultural, acceptability for the party (Obama also made the list until the DNC connection became too embarrassing and he then denied it).
Clinton played by the rules, at least politically. He drove the country to the right and proposed nothing dangerous to the LLC wing of the party. Edwards, however, not only ran on the only truly Democratic platform in 2008 among major candidates, he dared to bust into the line by challenging the two assigned ceiling breakers, Obama and Clinton. So, even before his sexual misdeeds were exposed, he was on the dump list of Democratic insiders.
As for Clinton, it is claimed by the liberal elite that all he did wrong was to have sex with Monica Lewinsky. This is completely untrue.
In fact, he admitted to one of the same offenses which are getting the current crowd in trouble: lying under oath.
Clinton made a deal with special prosecutor Robert Ray under which he admitted that he had made false statements in the Monica Lewinsky case and surrendered his law license for five years.
Ray's final report claimed he had enough evidence to indict Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice and obtain a conviction in the Lewinsky case, but he declined to do so. FBI agent IC Smith summarized in his memoir, "He concluded Clinton had been punished in other ways, citing the $850,000 paid to settle the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit, his contempt of court citation, the fines of $25,000 and $90,000 in attorney fees he had to reimburse in that case. Further, he cited the final fine of $25,000 and suspension of Clinton's law license in Arkansas. . . . It's interesting the most significant punishment in the whole saga was meted out by two female natives of Arkansas."
As for Rangel's problem with improperly paid-for travel, Little Rock Worldwide Travel provided Clinton with $1 million in deferred billing for his 1992 campaign trips. Clinton aide David Watkins boasted to a travel magazine, "Were it not for World Wide Travel here, the Arkansas governor may never have been in contention for the highest office in the land." In fact, without the Worldwide largesse, it is unlikely that the cash-strapped candidate could have survived through the later primaries.
Add to this the fact that Clinton was the complacent governor of one of the largest illegal drug-trading states in the union, that Hillary Clinton escaped prosecution because her falsehoods had just missed the indictable level, and that Whitewater was actually a real estate rip-off that hurt quite a few people - and the sins of the current crop begins to fade.
But here's the difference. The Clintons were and still are beloved by Democratic liberals and much of the media - thus the facts of the matter have been simply blacked out.
In my decades of covering corrupt politicians I have learned to look for a few things:
- Are the politicians tithing to the people as earlier generations of corrupt politicians routinely did? Few, and none of the aforementioned, would get much relief from judgment on this ground, but Barry - for the reasons mentioned by Jaffe - would probably stand the best chance. Clinton, for example, helped to destroy the Democratic Party and Rangel has been a big supporter of the war on drugs which has been more deadly to young black males than was the Vietnam war.
- Are the politicians corrupt because they are intrinsically evil or just not smart or wealthy enough to hire the right lawyers to figure out how to get away with it? Until we have public financing, all politics is corrupt, so we should be careful about beating up too hard on guys who came up from the street and never learned how legally to pay off developers and others.
- What sort of legal corruption is going on? This tends to be far more costly and dangerous to the public than the illegal version.
- Are the people who are outraged by the corruption of lesser pols expressing a true desire for virtue that might extend to steps that would restrict lobbying efforts in Congress and state legislatures or slow the gentrification of cities, or are they essentially making a class-based judgment about people they feel are basically tacky?
In the present examples, it would appear that the real problem is not the size or damage of the corruption, but the class and style of those committing it. The message once again is clear: if you want to be corrupt, do it right. The white establishment would be happy to offer you scholarships and legal assistance to show you how.