Well, it finally happened. The Good Ship Ed Burke struck an iceberg and is now taking on gallon after gallon of water. The fact that Alderman Burke finally got caught in the crosshairs of a federal prosecutor came as a surprise to a great many Chicagoans who thought Ed Burke had somehow developed some kind of immunity to charges of corruption. But this past week saw the venerable chairman of the Chicago City Council's Finance Committee do the perp walk into federal court.
What makes the indictment against Alderman Burke so shocking is that it had always been assumed Ed Burke was just too smart to get caught in something as tawdry as attempted extortion. Now, I can't vouch for the magnitude of Ed Burke's intelligence, but it should be noted that no matter how smart you happen to be there's always someone out there who is MUCH smarter than you. Alderman Burke's mistake was overestimating his ability to wriggle free from legal jams. Over time Ed Burke came to the conclusion that all the stories about his vaunted power and ability were absolutely true. As a result, Burke refused to believe the previous warning signs from investigations past and acted as if the hapless U.S. Attorney's office was totally incapable of piecing together enough evidence to put him in legal jeopardy.
Of course, such corruption emanating from the Chicago City Council can hardly come as a surprise. Pure venality is the inevitable product of one party control over Cook County government. Lord Acton wisely noted that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In a government body like Cook County where one political party rules supreme, the whole concept of accountability goes out the window. One gets the impression that Cook County voters are ready, willing, and quite able to forgive the transgressions of their office holders as long as they're part of the Cook County Political Machine. Now forgiveness can be a wonderful thing, but when it is handed out unconditionally, with no regard for any kind of accountability, then that's a virtual invitation to steal. And that's just the way it is in Cook County. Politicians here operate under the conclusion that they have nothing to fear from the next election. When the possibility of defeat at the next election is regarded as a virtual impossibility, what's there to keep a Cook County politician on the straight and narrow path? NOTHING! As a result, you go on your merry way down the road of graft and corruption because you KNOW you'll win the next election no matter what you have done.
We have to face facts. Corruption is part of the price of doing business in Cook County. Dishonesty and corruption are like death and taxes, inevitable. Worse, the voters of Cook County and the city of Chicago outwardly and openly support this corrupt system of government with their votes. You can be sure that if Ed Burke or any other political practitioner in the Chicago City Council had to worry that political corruption would be discovered, rooted out and disposed of at the polls, they would be a lot more circumspect than they already are.
Will a competitive two-party system ferret out corruption entirely? Not a chance! There will always be one office holder or another who is convinced of his or her invulnerability, who thinks they're too smart for the room, who KNOWS they can job the system because they know all the angles and are aware of where all the bodies are buried. But perhaps they wouldn't feel so impervious to the slings and arrows of political fortune if they had to genuinely worry about getting re-elected, thus perhaps potentially losing their strangle hold on political power.
Do I blame Ed Burke for being a corrupt politician? Absolutely! Ed Burke and those like him know full well what they are doing and why. They have simply given in to the temptation of easy pickings, to the realization that vast wealth is out there for the grabbing if you're just willing enough to overlook the fact that you're breaking the law in order to get it. Would I be any better than they are if I were just as convinced of my political invulnerability, believing that no matter WHAT I did that somehow my constituents would be ready, willing and able to forgive me. Under those circumstances, considering the vast fortune that would be open to me under the circumstances, I might just be tempted. This only goes to show the magnetism of absolute political power and why we must resist handing out such power willy-nilly!
Filed under: Politics