Dig Baton Rouge

Politics in the Dirty South

Last week, Former New Orleans Major Ray Nagin was convicted on 20 corruption charges. Nagin, who was only acquitted of one charge, was found guilty of conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud, money laundering and several charges of filing a false tax return.

Corrupt politicians are nothing new for Louisiana. Nagin claimed to be a new type of politician though. He ran on an anti-corruption campaign and uncovered scandals in the New Orleans Taxicab Bureau and the brake-tag inspection process.

Nagin wasn’t your typical “good ol’ boy” politician and now he is facing up to 20 years in prison. Even our champions of good aren’t good enough here. Can Louisiana ever clean up its political act?

No, simply put, we can’t. How would we even theme our Mardi Gras parades if we did? It’s the way Louisiana runs and always has. A politician gives a government contract to friends or a friend of a friend. Often those people had given some sort of political contribution.

Louisiana is a small-town kind of state. Everyone knows everyone or at least a friend of everyone. It’s hard to imagine how a politician could possibly even appoint a stranger.

Is it wrong for a politician to use his or her power for personal gain? Legally, yes, it is. But, doesn’t every person in almost every field use their power for personal gain? That’s kind of the point of getting power: to use it.

I’m not saying this is ethical but I don’t see how it’s different than any business. We don’t bat an eye at the billionaire CEO’s who consistently choose his own best interests over the wellbeing of thousands of his employees.

Politicians are different though. They have a legal and ethical obligation to help their constituents. They take an official oath when being sworn into office.

What about doctors then? Doctors take a Hippocratic oath and swear to practice medicine honestly and to have the utmost respect for the human life. Why is it OK then for doctors in this country to take bribes?

It’s commonplace for pharmaceutical reps to wine and dine physicians on $1,000 plus dinners. I know one neurologist who almost exclusively prescribed Topamax, an anti-seizure medicine with intense side effects, to anyone who walked in his door. No doubt he hasn’t paid for his own lunch in 20 years.

Doctors take people’s lives in their hands everyday and we don’t even hold them to the same standard that we do a politician in charge of building a city road.

And let’s be realistic, most politicians aren’t genuine people who just want to help the world. Most people get into politics because they want power and then we punish them for using it.

Philanthropic humanitarians don’t usually become politicians. If people just want to do good they usually just become a fireman or a doctor — and we already went over how that usually turns out.

There aren’t any non-corrupt politicians out there besides the President of Uruguay and Al Gore. Even if you’re a conservative who doesn’t believe in global warming? You can’t hate on Al Gore’s morals. That guy truly wants to save the world, even if it is in the most boring way possible.

When it comes down to it, politicians have to decide where the money goes. It’s hard not to fall to corruption when money is involved.

We want our politicians to be smooth-talkers with big balls, male or female. We need the fast-talking, charismatic networkers who know everyone and take charge. We want the Bill Clinton’s of the world to be our politicians. We don’t want the Al Gore’s of the world to be President, obviously.

If we want politicians to actually focus on the greater-good, then we’re looking in all the wrong places. We should be looking for the smart, quiet, meek introverts. The problem is that’s not how we imagine our politicians.

Who wants to see a hippie and an IT nerd debating on live TV? Either one might make a better leader than who we’re used to, but it wouldn’t make for a fun fight. And that’s really what politics is all about.

We can’t keep rewarding politicians for their bad behavior and then expect others to play by the rules. Edwin Edwards got a young wife and a reality show out of his corruption and us Louisianans eat it up. I bet the majority of the state would elect him governor again if they could.

Do I think politicians should spend decades in prison for playing favorites? No. Do I think we purposely go looking for these Type A politicians with flexible ethics and then punish them when they act like themselves? You betcha. Sorry, I stole that phrase from another woman who should probably keep her mouth shut when it comes to politics: Sarah Palin.

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