July 19, 1996

Presidential Friends and Associates

If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

Old saying

A number of presidents in both parties have had close friends and associates who were crooks. One of those presidents, whose vice-president was a crook and had to resign his office, defended himself with "I am not a crook." I think that he protested too much.

Let's face it, good honest people just don't suck up to politicians the way that crooks do. As a consequence many presidents have had crooks in their administration. Some presidents, I suspect, knew that they were crooks, while some may not have known. A person would have to be a fool not to at least be suspicious of someone who seems to be making lots of money while doing relatively little to earn it. A person making a certain salary has a certain lifestyle that is commensurate with his income. When someone making $80,000 a year lives like a millionaire, something is fishy.

Harry Truman, although scrupulously honest himself, accepted the help of some crooks. He even defended his friendship with them. He said that he would not turn his back on a friend.

A politician has to know a lot of people, some of whom are much less than honest. If he is to do a decent job, a goodly percentage of his associates and the members of his staff have to be both honest and conscientious. It is rare -if not impossible- for them all to be both honest and conscientious.

The fact is that many crooks are successful at it -they do not get caught. The only ones we hear about are those who do get caught.

The classic white-collar criminal uses company money to speculate with. If his speculations work, his company does well and he also makes a bundle. If his speculations fail, then he will be caught with his hand in the till, tried, convicted and sent to "Club Fed."

Now it turns out that some very close friends and associates of President Clinton -tagged with the acronym FOB, meaning Friends of Bill- got caught and are likely to spend some time in the pokey. The question is: who was exploiting whom? If Clinton was using their money and influence to get to where he is now, he might rationalize it as the only way that he was able to have gotten to where he is. In every transaction there is a quid pro quo(something for something). What did Clinton have to pay for what he got? Was it just "access," or something more? In the case of Hillary's parlaying $1,000 into $100,000, we will never know what the Clintons had do do for that $99,000. The Governor of Arkansas is expected to either steal, or to be independently wealthy, because he isn't paid enough to support the life style of even a minor executive. The president of the country, its legislators and top officials are paid very well. They shouldn't have to steal, but the habit of easy money can be hard to break. Besides, unless you get caught at it, there is little incentive to break the habit. Many rationalize their thievery with the belief that "everybody is doing it." Of course, everybody isn't doing it. There are many honest people in government. The vast majority of people in government are honest, but they don't make the news the way that the thieves do.

I suspect that a large percentage of people who enter politics trade any morals and ethics that they might have had for expedience. Getting elected and staying in office seems to be the number-one motivation for most politicians. Those who don't feel this way often quit politics for some other field, or end up in jobs where you don't have to be elected. Don't take my word for it; ask General Colin Powell.

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