The first warning to everyone and anyone who is introduced to positions of power is “Handle with care.”
The last is “It isn’t you; it’s the position.”
To take the last first I cite the comment of my great and good friend Bob Froehlke whose career in public service culminated as Secretary of the Army. The day he left the job, there was a full dress parade with troops and military bands and a reception for hundreds of guests and subordinates hosted by the Secretary of Defense. He rode home from that event in his chauffeur driven limo.
The next morning when he was leaving for less lofty duties in the Midwest, a sergeant in a jeep showed up to take him to the airport.
“Oh,” he said to himself. “It wasn’t about me after all.”
It never is.
This means that power and you are true disposables. Overdo, overreach, abuse it and you will disappear along with it.
It happens all the time. Does anyone remember Maurice Stans whose excesses led up to the excesses of the “We can fix this” White House gang whose overzealous effort to protect Stans’ boss Richard Nixon brought down a presidency?
The New Jersey traffic-jam gang members are only the latest in a long line of miscreants.
There is no denying that power is addictive and seductive. It can and should and mostly is used to do what politicians are elected to do: improve the human condition. These improvements come mostly in small ways. I collect and treasure the stories of ordinary people who surprisingly find that everyone returns their phone calls and that their jokes are a lot funnier than they used to be who make things better quietly and quickly.
Getting a stoplight installed in a dangerous place over the dead bodies of the bureaucrats who worship non-stop highways, and giving the children in child support cases legal standing in those nasty disputes, are two of my favorites.
I am also gratified when overreaching is revealed and punished as it was when all those Watergate cover-up schemers went to the pokey and when most of the Wisconsin legislative leaders paid the price in jail time for orchestrating the caucus scandal a few years ago.
It seems to be happening again in New Jersey where the governor may survive but those who went overboard on his behalf will not.
The hammer has not come down in our state in places where voter abuse has been detected and over-protected by the too powerful. But it is an election year, and the perils of power are looming. The situation is not as menacing as the Perils of Pauline. Yet.
Office: Common Cause Wisconsin