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Sense of Decency


Back in the nineteen-seventies, Michigan Supreme Court Justice John Swainson, a former governor, was accused of having accepted a bribe. He was acquitted of that, but convicted of perjury.

There are plenty of people, including his biographer, Lawrence Glazer, who think Swainson was actually innocent of anything other than bad judgment and trying to be his own attorney.

But after the verdict, Swainson didn’t spend his life whining to the press about the injustice of it all.

The former governor, an authentic war hero who had his legs blown off in the Second World War, resigned from the court, lost his law license, did his time, and disappeared into obscurity.

Years later, he worked hard and diligently at rehabilitating himself, and became a highly respected head of the Michigan Historical Commission before he died in nineteen ninety-four.

I mention all this because I thought of him yesterday, when splashed across the papers were long stories about a self-justifying interview disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick gave on an AM radio station yesterday morning.

Kilpatrick, you may remember, just got out of prison for violating probation. He is facing a new trial on a vast array of corruption charges that could send him to federal prison for thirty years.

Nobody disputes that his lies cost his impoverished city nine million dollars, or that he still owes nearly a million in court-ordered restitution. Nevertheless, the press feel compelled to give him a forum to criticize the present mayor, an indisputably honest man.

He claimed that Dave Bing “has a problem connecting with people.” The newspapers trumpeted Kilpatrick’s claim that “Economic development was the best it ever had been when I was there,” and “city services worked better when I was there.”

Carl Bernstein, the Pulitzer-Prize winning Watergate reporter, once observed that while it is true that the First Amendment means that trash talk is protected free speech, we are not obligated to furnish trash with an outlet. And by doing so, we diminish respect for journalists as gatekeepers and managers of the information flow. There is only so much space available on the paper and time on the airwaves.

And it bothers me to know that important and interesting stories are being ignored so that we can hear one more predictable rant from a convicted felon.

Which reminds me, as I long as I am being an old curmudgeon, that we’ve always had a custom that when a candidate loses an election, he or she gracefully disappears for awhile.

Dick Posthumus, for example, made a far better than expected showing against Jennifer Granholm, but lost narrowly. After the election, he graciously retired and refrained from criticizing her.

Dick DeVos did much the same. On a national level, you never heard much of a peep out of Bob Dole or Mike Dukakis or John Kerry after they lost the presidency. But almost from the start of the Obama Administration, the man he solidly beat by almost ten million votes has been on TV attacking his administration night after night. Yes, I know this sounds grumpy, but a sense of perspective would be nice.

Either that, or at the very least, designating some place a Kwame-free zone.