Politics and scandal have been intimately connected, since a time whence the memory of man runneth not to the contrary. Even before King David sent Uriah the Hittite into the front lines of battle, to enable his dalliance with Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, political leaders have almost universally displayed varying degrees of meretricious veniality.
The English sage, John Emerich Edward Dalberg, 1st Baron Acton, KCVO, DL, is famous for pointing out that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Lesser known, is his observation that, “Great men are almost always bad men… There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”
A cursory review of political history should lead us to be surprised only when an honest man appears, wearing the mantle of high office; not the other way around. Political corruption should be expected, anticipated, and guarded against.
With this in mind, we herewith offer some advice to aspiring politicians and those readers aspiring only to flack for, and become the minions of, such politicians. When the specter of scandal begins to rear it’s ugly head–as it almost certainly will–here are some rhetorical steps one should consider, before throwing in the towel and copping a plea:
1. What scandal? Denial is not just a river in Egypt. The most tried and true response to any allegation of misconduct is total and complete denial. “You surely cannot expect me to respond to the slimy insinuations of my political enemies.” “Who are you going to believe; me or your lying eyes?” Brand your accusers as known liars; with inborn streaks of mendacity unequaled since Cain lied about his brother’s whereabouts.
2. What’s the big deal? A tempest in a teapot. When the ugly facts start to percolate to the surface, and you can no longer paint your opponents as lying conspirators, sluff the whole thing off by pointing out it’s total insignificance in the great scheme of things. “Nothing but a third-rate burglary.” You have more important things to do than respond to petty complaints from your simple-minded opponents.
3. The Nixon Defense: Everybody’s doing it. If the facts of the scandal start appearing to be incontrovertible, remind your critics that this sort of stuff goes on all the time. Nothing unique here, “Cosi fan tutti.” Throw in a good old ad hominem tu quoque argument: Accuse your critic of failure to criticize your predecessor and all the other miscreants of the world–throughout history–whose heinous depredations make your excusable misdemeanor pale by comparison. Accuse your critic of bias, prejudice, bigotry, and intolerance. Have yourself photographed carrying a Bible.
4. So what? When denial and personal attacks fail to dissuade your critics, you should always give justification a shot. “Sure we rounded them up and put them in concentration camps; but, after all, they were Japs, and we were at war.” “Okay, so we dunked ’em a few times; but we gained a lot of good information about the enemy’s future plans to do bad stuff.” “After all, if you’ve done nothing wrong, and have nothing to hide, then you couldn’t possibly object to having your house searched, phone tapped, taxes audited, urine sampled, etc.”
5. Nobody ever tells me anything. Blame everything on underlings. Use the passive voice: “Mistakes were made.” “When I said, ‘Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?’ I certainly didn’t expect my henchmen to get carried away, to the extent that they would actually murder the Bishop. At least, not in the cathedral, with witnesses.”
6. Let the amputations begin. If the smell persists, then expect the gangrene to spread. In a needed effort to save the organism (your butt), start throwing subordinates under the bus. Don’t be squeamish, and don’t be afraid to mix your metaphors. Talk about bad apples and “a spreading cancer.” The wider the blame can be spread, the less it will focus on you.
7. Delay. Never admit today what can be denied until tomorrow. Always remember that time is on your side. You can safely depend upon the limited attention span of the American public. Change the subject. Start a war. Toss out a few shiny objects, from time to time. If some critic tries to return the conversation to you festering scandal, remind him that it is “old news” and that you need to put all this behind you, and look forward to the future and your task of addressing the issues the American People really care about: (fill in the blank here).
8. Bravery and Magnanimity. In the unlikely event that none of the preceding dodges prove efficacious, and the mob is at the gate, wielding pitchforks and torches, you need to consider leaving with grace and panache. Never let ’em see you sweat, and do your best to avoid any ugly scenes in front of a jury or on a scaffold. Stand tall while resigning, and never admit defeat or any semblance of guilt. Say you are leaving so as to save your country from a bloodbath. Suggest that it has been your intention, all along, to spend more time with your family (do not mention your mistress by name). If you have any cash left from your spoils, try to slip some of it to your successor; laying the groundwork for a magnanimous pardon, which you will humbly accept. Take a vacation. Start planning your comeback.