Sunday, September 9, 2007

The cover-up is always worse than the crime

The current scandal involving Idaho Senator Larry Craig is a political story that has all the elements needed to fascinate the public.

It has power, prestige, sex, stupidity, and a lot more hot button issues that provoke opinions from us all.

When reviewing the events of the last couple of weeks, one recurring emotion that I keep experiencing is how familiar this all seems. Not necessarily the circumstances that led Craig to announce he will resign, but how his handling of the situation was a classic political blunder.

He handled it in a way we have all seen before.

When it comes to politics, it is not necessarily the mistake or crime a person commits, but the way they try to cover it up that eventually leads to their leaving office.

In Craig's case, he submitted a guilty plea to a disorderly conduct charge stemming from an incident in an airport men's room back in June. On Aug. 8, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and paid a fine. None of this was noticed by the media at the time.

Later, when the story finally became public, he said he decided to plead guilty in an attempt to make the situation "go away." If he quietly pleaded guilty, he apparently thought there was a possibility the incident would be unnoticed.

Of course, since then, he said he regrets the guilty plea. But because of his attempts to cover-up this incident, he has boxed himself into a corner.

Now, he desperately wants the public to believe he is innocent, but most people will never understand why anyone would plead guilty to these charges if he was really innocent.

From a political standpoint, it doesn't matter now if he is innocent. His botched attempted to cover this up has led to a conviction in the court of public opinion that likely can not be overcome.

In other words, he is political toast.

Instead, he should have taken a proactive approach in dealing with this situation when it first occurred. He should have taken control of the situation and not let it control him.

If he had pleaded not guilty and defended himself, the situation would still have become public, but he would not be in the corner that he finds himself now.

If he had fought and lost, he would have faced being pressured to resign, but at least he still would have the leverage of maintaining his innocence, which is something he lost when he decided to plead guilty.

I know it sounds like I am saying it is acceptable to manipulate the judicial system for political reasons, but I really am not.

If this man is really innocent, he should have fought for that. I am just saying as a long-time politician, he should have done a better job of weighing his options from a political standpoint before making his decision.

It sounds like he let fear dictate his decision making, and we put ourselves in dangerous positions when we let this happen.

Of course, Craig isn't the first high-profile politician this has happened to, and he certainly will not be the last.

In recent political history, the worst example of a cover-up was when President Richard Nixon's administration attempted to hide events related to the Watergate scandal.

The attempt to cover-up a break in at Democratic National Committee headquarters eventually led to Nixon resigning in disgrace and several high-ranking administration officials going to prison.

Also, President Bill Clinton's impeachment was a direct result of his attempts to cover-up decisions he made in his personal life.

The examples of Craig, Nixon, and Clinton all illustrate the risks of cover-ups.

When people try to hide things and get caught, it injures their credibility. For public servants, their credibility is the most important resource they have.

A person spends a lifetime building their credibility, but it can be lost with just a few bad decisions.

The fallout from those decisions can be swift and permanent. It can distort a lifetime's worth of work.

That may not be fair, but it is reality.

1 comment:

Joltin' Django said...

How very funny that you write that at the exact moment that State Representative Rob Briley is being hauled in for DUI, failure to "pull over," and vandalism against a law enforcement vehicle.

U.S. Sen. Larry Craig's transgression is starting to look tame by comparison!