A Tale as Old as Time
Where there is government there is scandal. It’s inevitable. Although it may seem that every new day brings an unprecedented amount of scandal, unresolved government corruption, or backroom deals, really nothing has changed. Since the founding of our nation, the American form of government has served as a beacon for freedom and integrity. Despite this, we have not been impervious to individuals who have bent rules and bypassed regulations while attempting to promote themselves or their cause.
In the light of the IRS scandal and the hearings currently taking place in Congress, it is easy for one to become discouraged by thinking that government corruption is at all-time highs and our country is irreversibly damaged. However, through my recent studies of the presidents while researching for my new book Our Presidents Rock, I have found that scandals have plagued the presidency and our government for centuries -- literally.
Beginning with Thomas Jefferson. I mean, talk about documents “magically disappearing” from ... well, it was a desk back then and not a desktop. Jefferson’s actions were definitely for partisan purposes. Right before President John Adams left office, he hurried to appoint as many Federalists to federally appointed positions as possible (in hopes of balancing out his successor’s Democrat-Republican beliefs). But not all the appointments were mailed before his leave of office, resulting in a stack of appointments remaining in the “outbox” on his successor’s desk. When Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison stumbled over these sealed and stamped envelopes, they decided it was in the best interest of their partisan plan to not mail them. Hence their disappearance. The forthcoming Supreme Court Case, Marbury v. Madison, led to Chief Justice John Marshall’s (ironically, Jefferson’s cousin and arch-rival) landmark decision of constitutional review. And we think that disappearing emails/letters is a modern-day occurrence. If only.
However, many will argue that today’s scandal is different: there is no proof yet that the president was involved; this is just a case of a wayward and unrestrained government agency. At this, Ulysses S. Grant would roll over in his grave.
The great Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant had a tendency to over-trust people. Because of this, his presidency was wrought with scandal. During his second term, five major scandals rocked his presidency in the course of just three years, all because of his unruly government agencies. Fortunately for his reputation, none of the scandals involved President Grant directly. All the scandals stemmed from backroom deals and the greedy hands of his friends and family whom Grant himself had appointed to the government agencies. One of Grant’s scandals, the Sanborn incident, even involved the pocketing of tax payments, the convenient overlooking of tax evasion, and exploitation regarding our nation’s Treasury Department. Sounding familiar?
Then, of course, there is President Richard Nixon. With Nixon arrives the problem of technology. While in earlier years ink and paper could disappear but not be reversed, we now have electronics and a handy “delete” button by which we can hide our darkest secrets. While Nixon used his delete button to erase vulnerable areas in the Oval Office audio tapes handed over to the House during his Watergate impeachment hearings, the IRS has now used the delete button (or a hard drive crash -- one of the same) to possibly hide revealing emails.
Throughout the tales of American history, one finds that scandals are a part of our government. It is easy to become discouraged. Has our great political experiment failed due to the greedy and partisan hands of politicians? The answer is no. Our very structure of government, with the checks and balances of our three branches, is the reason why we have not succumbed to the mire of scandal, even way back in 1800.
Albert Einstein said, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” This is what makes America unique. As Americans, we watch our government and witness the corruption; however, instead of doing nothing, history has proven that our voice has checked our government’s corruption through the voting process. When one political party becomes too enthralled with control and authority, we have used our vote to recenter our government.
This is our duty. We must demand answers and accountability and then utilize our voice to rein in the government and reestablish it in truth and transparency.